Social Media and Healthcare 2021: The #hcldr view

Where better to find a predominately positive overview of the current impact of social media on healthcare than during a  #hcldr tweetchat?

Launched in 2012 and masterfully moderated by co-hosts Colin Hung (@colin_hung) and Joe Babaian (@JoeBabaian), #hcldr is one of the only remaining regular weekly tweet chats that deals with a broad range of healthcare topics.

Earlier this week, they hosted a chat on the current state of social media and healthcare that drew almost 200 participants including physicians, other health care providers, digital health specialists, patients and patient advocates predominately from the US but also from Canada, the Philippines and other countries.

From among the usual rapid-fire exchange of greetings and subchats emerged a strongly positive overview (with caveats) of the role of social media in healthcare. It also revealed interesting insights into the continuing evolution of how informed individuals are utilizing these platforms.

Most of those contributing to the chat indicated their use of social media has changed over the years.

Some  talked about switching their emphasis from Facebook to Twitter and LinkedIn and from using social media for social interactions to taking a more professional approach and becoming more engaged. While definitely an older cohort of social media users, some participants talked about productively having used Snapchat and now TikTok.

However, Dr. Nick Van Terheyden (@drnic1), a digital healthcare innovator and former chief medical officer for Dell, noted his use of social media has decreased significantly because the platforms have been “weaponized” to promote dissinformation. Ziva Mann (@MannZiva) agreed, adding that now without careful facilitation “venom” often seeps into social media discussions.

For the vast majority of participants, social media today seems to be used primarily for engagement and networking and for information gathering or curation. As Ottawa child psychiatrist Dr. Gail Beck (@gailyentabeck) tweeted: “I access some of the best information on many subjects from social media. I’ve ‘met’ some inspiring people and groups like #hcldr.”

Dr. Rashu Shrestha (@RashuShrestha), chief strategy officer at Atrium Heath, noted “social media has always been about connecting at an exponential scale. The value of @Twitter has evolved from basic information sharing to meaningful engagement, and much deeper dialogue.”

“Every generation will have education and information gaps and “discover” social media as a tool to learn and share more among themselves,” tweeted Dr. Meredith Gould (@meredithgould), an author and digital activist. However she later added “I believe at least one and maybe two generations of physicians and allied health workers need to depart this mortal coil before social media is fully appreciated. Young hc pros on TikTok are delivering essential info with delightful edge.”

In response to one of the tweet chat questions, participants seemed in strong agreement that social media has a role in healthcare today, particularly as a means of patient empowerment.

As Annie-Danielle Grenier (@AdanGrenier), a patient partner in Quebec tweeted, social media can help patients obtain information as well as being a place for support groups. Social media, she said, can also help healthcare professionals get their message out and learn from patients.

“I often tell patients about hashtags or social media groups that I think are good for their specific medical experiences or diagnoses,” confirmed Dr. Latita Abhyankar (@L_Abhyankar), a US family physician, in her tweet.

“While the way we use social media may evolve, it is still a valuable outlet for education, collaboration, and information. It allows us to challenge healthcare norms, advocate for patients, and support our peers,” tweeted Shereese Maynard (@ShereeseMayMba), a digital strategist. 


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