Everybody is not doing it – in Canada at least

ImageThree years ago, the Canadian Medical Association conducted a poll of some of its members about their use of social media and their views about the main social media platforms. For advocates of the use of social media in health care the results were dispiriting. In fact, the only area where the more than 600 practising physicians, residents and medical students were in agreement was about the potential for professional or legal risks from social media use.

Fast forward three years to today and a repeat of the survey has yielded similar findings showing little has changed when it comes to Canadian doctors either using social media or seeing any potential benefit from the use of social media professionally.

Only 9.2% of the 884 respondents indicated they used Twitter for professional purposes (or professional and personal use combined), 4.3% for Facebook and 19% for LinkedIn. Only 3.5% said they blogged for professional purposes or both professional and personal reasons and the number using Instagram for professional purposes was a miniscule 0.3%.

Attitudes about social media mirror these numbers.

A whopping 89.5% felt the use of social media in medicine poses professional or legal risks, with this percentage being even higher among medical students. Similarly, 38.9% felt social media is of little value in day-to-day medical practice versus 35% who felt there was value and 26.1% who just didn’t know.

Those who did use social media for professional purposes were much more likely to use it for networking with peers and/or patients than as a source of information for their practice (52% vs. 25%).

Dozens of comments made on the survey overwhelmingly confirmed the lack of interest most doctors have in using social media in their practices. A sample:

  • Social media is like the Wild West – unregulated and full of unknown risks
  • Social media generally are time wasters
  • I don’t want to become a Twitter slave
  • How I pity a physician who mentally, professionally and socially engage 24/7, let them do it at their own peril …

It is worth contrasting these findings and perspectives with the outlooks of many Canadian physicians who are actively and very positively using social media channels such as Twitter to engage with peers and patients, create global networks of informed health care advocates, and develop timely sources of valuable medical information to inform their work.

In many instances, I believe, responses to the CMA poll represent a very fundamental misunderstanding of how social media can and should be used in health care – not to deliver individual patient care but rather to broadly communicate ideas and views and gather useful information.

For many practising physicians, social media may well not be useful avenues to pursue for improving patient care. But the reality is social media channels are an integral part of society today and should you choose not be use these avenues of communication the least you can do is gain a better understanding of what you are choosing not to use.

“Digital connectivity is not going to go away. It is part of our reality,” is how Dr. Doug Ward, a medical resident put it during a debate at the Canadian Conference on Physician Health last fall.

While arguably not rigorously scientific, the CMA poll provides the best data we currently have on Canadian physician attitudes about social media and the findings provide a reality check against other surveys – mainly from other jurisdictions – indicating the majority of the medical profession are out there tweeting, making videos and/or posting to Facebook as part of their work.

For those of us who are strong believers in the ability of social media to improve health outcomes – I finish with a quote Canadian singer/songwriter Neil Young:  “In the field of opportunity, it’s ploughing time again.”


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