A recent editorial nicely summarized the challenges that the medical profession faces with the popularity of social media platforms.
As physicians and other medical providers are coming to realize, whenever you post something to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or a blog, you are creating a "digital footprint". In essence, think of yourself as "treading" through the World Wide Web and every action that you take leaving a lasting "footprint".
There are definite potential landmines for physicians who engage in the use of social media. Interesting questions posed and points made included:
Do public postings of unprofessional content (eg. your being intoxicated) also apply to when you are not working?
There is some degree of detachment when posting online content, because you are merely typing on a screen and not engaged with a face-to-face conversation. This may give users a sense of disinhibition when publishing material. This may then lead to inadvertent, lasting consequences (i.e. not getting a job, violating patient confidentiality, looking unprofessional).
Whether you intent to or not, when you post anything online, unprofessional content reflects poorly not only on you but the entire medical profession.
However, social media is not all bad for the medical profession. In fact, quite the contrary. Web 2.0 technologies have enabled a huge culture shift with incredible possibilities. For example:
Physicians are now able to serve as credible resources for medical information.
Digital communication is more streamlined and in real-time.
There is more transparency between public health and hospital organizations and the public.
These tools are paramount in providing a more reflective-based and personalized learning experience for our medical students and residents.
Great quote from the paper:
"Much like a mirror, social media can reflect the best and worst aspects of the content placed before it for all to see."
Social media is here to stay and has impacted how physicians interact with the public. This paper was a nice reminder that we are still in our infancy when it comes to defining what medical professionalism is within the social media arena.
Reference Greysen SR, Kind T, & Chretien KC (2010). Online Professionalism and the Mirror of Social Media. Journal of general internal medicine PMID: 20632121