Monday, January 26, 2015

Social Media for Health-Care Professionals: A Starter Kit

Mark G. Kuczewski, PhD

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and a host of other social media platforms seem to be everywhere. It can seem as if everything we read and watch is accompanied by a call to “Follow us on Twitter” or “Like us on Facebook.” You may already use one or more of these platforms for personal purposes.  For instance, having a Facebook account on which one posts items such as pictures about oneself and family for friends and others. Quite commonly, we might find ourselves facing certain questions such as whether to accept friend requests from patients or others and what kinds of disclosures about one’s work life are appropriate. Health systems are always concerned that the confidentiality to which patients are entitled may be violated by a member of the staff and result in the fabled “HIPAA violation.” And, they might simply prefer to control all communications that can be interpreted as emanating from the institution so that their facility “speaks with one voice.” Fear of getting into some kind of trouble at work can lead us to conclude that we’d be better off simply not engaging in social media.

Social media poses many opportunities to improve one’s professional life and to further one’s vocation of serving others. And, it can be fun. As a result, many institutions are now taking a far more positive approach. For instance, the Mayo Clinic has put together a video that encourages their employees to engage on social media and offers a few caveats.  The Loyola University Health System has a very minimalist policy. For the most part, it articulates the principle that is the prime directive of health care professionals in the modern age: Do not make any disclosure of the Personal Health Information (PHI) of any patient in your care or the care of the institution. And, the policy affirms that you may use LUHS work stations to access such platforms for educational and business purposes. In other words, it recognizes that your work can be enhanced through these media.

It’s About Who You Are

Busy professionals do not have time for one more thing they “should” do. There’s no point in trying to convince them that like going to the gym and getting more vitamin D, they should participate in social media. I’ll make the simplest case for it: You are very likely to enjoy it on many levels.  You probably went into health care for a variety of reasons. You have an intellectual curiosity that led you into a field that combines science, art, and people skills. And, you enjoy sharing your wisdom and insights for the benefit of others. If you could, you’d like an easy way to put forward your professional persona, keep current on all sorts of relevant issues, and share helpful information and insights.  And, of course, it would be wonderful if this led to satisfying interactions, perhaps more patients, and even injected some humor into your day. It sounds like making use of social media in your professional life is right up your alley. So, how do you get the fun started?

What to do
  1. Establish Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn accounts for your professional use. -  While there are many interesting social media platforms, these have become more or less standard equipment. If you use a platform such as Facebook for personal use, you might consider a second account that is for your professional use so that you can share information and links with colleagues and relative strangers without also sharing private materials such as your family photos.
  2. “Like” (on Facebook) and “Follow” on Twitter people and institutions that will bring you the kind of news you enjoy. -  Think about what kind of information you try to obtain in your daily life. Most of your favorite news outlets, reporters and columnists post their stories to Twitter. Similarly, professional societies and journals often have accounts or Facebook pages.  Search for conferences or meetings you like to attend or even people you admire.  Chances are that you’ll be able to get information directly from them through social media.  Once you have connected to the kinds of information sources that you enjoy, you’ll go into your account frequently in order to get information.  You will slowly but surely become a master of these tools.
  3. Share the information you find interesting and relevant. Comment on some of it. - You might find some of your favorite writers or folks you admire in your field engaging in “conversation” with you.  How cool is that?
  4. Establish a LinkedIn account and build your profile page. – I’ll write more in this space in the future about LinkedIn. It’s tame, static, and boring. But it is the one platform that is quickly becoming mandatory for all professionals. It is your public CV and you need to have a decent profile page on LinkedIn. It’s what people will get when they Google you. Without it, you risk being seen as unengaged in your profession.

What Not to Do
  1. Do not share any information about particular patients on social media. - You can talk about illnesses and common issues, but no identifiable patient information should ever be included. And be careful with pictures at your facility.  Capturing even a glimpse of an unaware person in a background discloses that they were at the facility.  That shouldn’t happen.
  2. Don’t diagnose people on social media. -  If people ask particular questions about their health, you can suggest they see a health-care provider and/or tell them about reputable information sources. But you definitely should not be treating patients on a social media outlet.
  3. Sleep on it. – People will say the darnedest things. Some will put forward caustic, bombastic and even hateful viewpoints.  Generally, such persons will not want to be persuaded by you.  If you do respond at all, it should be mainly to provide factual or well-reasoned counter information so that it can be seen by others who follow your posts. If you find yourself about to respond in anger, take a time out, maybe even overnight.  Rest assured it’s a pretty good strategy even if your lesser angels want to get back at this person for their rudeness; such interlocutors will find your delay uncomfortable and it gives you time to decide whether any response is worthwhile.  And don’t feel you need the last word.  Once you have made any relevant factual points, do not persist in posting simply because the other person is.
  4. Don’t engage others criticizing your hospital or health-care institution – You may “represent” your institution because people’s impression of a facility is partly drawn from their experiences of particular professionals they know work there.  But you are not the spokesperson charged with responding to any particular allegations and unless you are a senior administrator appropriately so charged, you do not speak for the institution. And, you may find your words twisted and used against you and your institution if you engage.

In general, be yourself- the bright, engaging professional that you are.  And have fun!

Here are a few of my favorite Twitter and Facebook sites related to bioethics or health-care professionalism to get you started. On Twitter, you search for the site by the “handle” e.g., @BlahBlah, whereas on Facebook, you search for a page by its name.

Follow on Twitter


Health Care/Policy:

@TheOnion - humor

Like On Facebook

Life Matters Media
Bioethics – AJOB Discussion Group
Bioethics InternationalDiscussion Group

Health Care/Policy:
National Hispanic Medical Association
New England Journal of Medicine
American Journal of Nursing
Hispanic Serving Health Professions Schools
Latino Medical Student Association
Student National Medical Association
Catholic Health Association

Jonathan Cohn
Think Progress
The New York Times
The New York Times – Well – Health
Faith In Public Life
Ignatian Solidarity Network
The Onion - humor

Mark Kuczewski, PhD, is the Chair of the Department of Medical Education and the Director of the Neiswanger Institute for Bioethics and Health Policy at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.  Dr. Kuczewski teaches Clinical Bioethics and Organizational Ethics in the Bioethics & Health Policy Graduate Program at Loyola University Chicago.  You can follow him on Twitter @BioethxMark or friend him on Facebook (Mark G. Kuczewski).

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