And so it goes … HCSM in Canada 2014

As 2014 draws to a close I thought it might be illuminating to provide a short list of some of what I consider to be highlights of social media use in health care and medicine in Canada over the past 12 months.

We are not worthy

Canada attracted at least two social media health care superstars during the year.

Dave deBronkart (@ePatientDave) gave a plenary presentation at the BC Health Quality Council Forum and followed this up by hosting an open mike session on the Council’s @qualitychat in the fall.

One of the most respected and personable experts on the use of social health in medical education, Dr. Ann Marie Cunningham (@amcunningham), from Cardiff, Wales, visited Canada not once but twice during the year. She made presentations and participated in discussions at both the Canadian Conference on Medical Education and the International Conference on Residency Education. As a sidebar, it is worth noting that social media in medical education continued to benefit from outstanding participation and research by Canadians such as @ARJalali as well as numerous residents and medical students.

Smile while we tweet that

Canada hosted two very successful exercises in live tweeting medical procedures during the year, showing the value of such events in helping demystify goings on in the operating room and educating the public.

On February 20, 2014, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto marked Heart Month by live-tweeting a coronary artery bypass graft.

Then, during Prostate Cancer Awareness Month in November, Toronto East General Hospital live tweeted a prostate cancer surgery with surgeon @RKSingal.

If they say so then it must be

Passing unnoticed by all but the physicians of Canada was a special October edition of the magazine produced by the Canadian Medical Protective Association – the group that provides malpractice insurance for physicians – which not only focused on social media but also had an enlightened outlook.

Given the risk adverse nature of the organization (for obvious reasons) this was truly a landmark event.

The publication included statements such as:

“Whether physicians are active on social media or not, a understanding of social media and its potential implications on their professional lives is essential:” CMPA CEO Dr. Hartley Stern

It has to be said

Results from a highly authoritative survey of more than 10,000 Canadian physicians showed that few if any are using social media for professional purposes.

The National Physician Survey showed that fewer than 1 in 10 Canadian doctors use social networks such as Facebook (9%) for professional purposes and fewer than 5% use Twitter, blogging or discussion forums for professional use

CMA leads the way

The Canadian Medical Association continued to show real leadership on the social media front in 2014. (Transparency statement – I work for these folks).

In addition to producing one of the only online web courses available for physicians on the professional use of social media (accessible only to CMA members), the CMA currently has a president Dr. Chris Simpson (@Dr_ChrisSimpson) who is not only highly active on Twitter and through blogging but also ‘gets it’ when it comes to the value for physicians from using social media to engage with patients.

#hcsmca stakes its claim

Over the course of the fall, Canada’s foremost health care social media network (#hcsmca) took tangible steps to ensure its ongoing presence and profile by adopting a mission statement and vision for the network (second transparency statement: I was involved in this). Work is now ongoing to develop a workplan to deliver on that mission so that #hcsmca can remain relevant to Canadians and others globally who are interested in supporting ongoing discussions and research about the value of social media to improve health and health care.

That’s just my list and I am sure there are many other items that could be added.

So seasons greetings and looking forward to more social media mayhem in 2015.

Are social media (for doctors) an evolutionary dead end

The numbers can no longer be denied.
The largest and most comprehensive survey of Canadian physicians on the topic of social media has found a distressingly low minority of these doctors are using social media for professional purposes.
Doctors are not tweeting, they are not using Facebook and they are not posting videos for their patients.
The numbers:
• Fewer than 1 in 10 Canadian doctors use social networks such as Facebook (9%) for professional purposes
• Fewer than 5% use Twitter, blogging or discussion forums for professional use
• There were no notable differences in use of social media for professional reasons among those physicians under the age of 65.
• In their personal life, 40% of physicians overall and 72% of those under age 60 use social networks such as Facebook and LinkedIn. Twenty-three percent of all respondents and 33% of those under the age of 35 use media sharing sites such as YouTube. One in 10 use Twitter for personal reasons.
These figures from the recently released National Physician Survey (NPS) with responses from more than 10,000 doctors confirm earlier research I have done on behalf of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) and written about here (Everybody Is Not Doing It – At Least in Canada) and presented at conferences such as the recent Medicine 2.0 conference (Where Is Everyone?) These earlier surveys could be faulted for involving a relatively small number of self-selected physicians participating in the CMA ePanel. But the statistics from the NPS are undeniable and they raise serious questions for those promoting the use of social media in health care.
While the Canadian statistics are self-reported the overall picture cannot be challenged and it is a puzzling picture indeed because it runs so contrary to statistics from countries such as the U.S. where the general perception is that most physicians are using social media professionally (see for example a Nov. 13 commentary in The New England Journal of Medicine which states “With a majority of physicians now using social media …).
With most social media tools and platforms having been around for a decade or so, we must face the realization that despite what peer leaders such as CMA President Dr. Chris Simpson and Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada lead Dr. Ali Jalali say and do, the Canadian medical profession is not integrating social media into their professional lives – even when guidelines from their professional organizations state the value of doing so.
Given the degree to which social media use has become the norm in Canadian society as a communication and networking tools, this refusal of Canadian physicians to use the tools represents a serious omission.
The reasons Canadian doctors are not using social media in their practices are clear and obvious – they see no benefit and several perceived and real risks to their professional lives. This is not going to change any time soon despite what people may say to the contrary.
For those of us who live and breathe social media in health care, the statistics should come as a sobering reminder that the doctors we are interacting with on these platforms representing a tiny and unrepresentative section of the medical profession. They should also cause us to redouble our efforts to inform and educate physicians about how social media can safely be used to help them gather information, disseminate information, and most importantly interact with the rest of the world that sees social media use as the norm.
But they should also cause us to ask whether social media tools and platforms as currently constituted just do not add anything substantive to the practice of medicine for most physicians.