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.
• 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.
The numbers can no longer be denied.