I’ve taken some time to reflect on social media and it’s use in medicine, and in oncology specifically. Yesterday, I gave a lecture to hematology and oncology faculty and fellows at my institution on the potential applications of social media in oncology. I’ve given a version of this talk before – several times, in fact – over the past couple of years. The questions from the audience continue to get better, and I can tell that more and more are interested.
And this is good, because social media isn’t going away.
I think we – physicians and health care providers – owe it to ourselves (and to our patients) to understand where are patients are finding support, finding guidance, and finding answers to health-related questions. And right now, more and more, our patients are finding this information online and on social media.
There are risks associated with using social media, and these potential risks stand as a barrier for many who might otherwise use social media. Physicians – and the general public – are often concerned about the risk of privacy violations, whether real or perceived. Health care providers have concerns for the potential for liability. We worry about the quality of information that gets disseminated online. There are worries about content theft and lack of proper attribution. Physicians worry about whether we can separate our professional and personal lives – and should we?
I focused a lot on Twitter in my talk yesterday, for this is my preferred social media application. As I wrapped up the lecture, I shared with my audience the 12-word social media policy from Farris Timimi, MD, the medical director for the Mayo Clinic’s Center for Social Media. His policy is so simple, and that’s why it’s nearly perfect: Don’t lie; don’t pry; don't cheat; can’t delete; don’t steal; and don’t reveal. You can read his original post here for elaboration on each of these.
One of the faculty members in the audience raised his hand.
“But aren’t these things our mothers should have taught us when we were kids?” he asked, already knowing the answer to his own question.
Yes. Absolutely. And I believe that if we follow that simple 12-word policy – or my own rule to never share anything that would embarrass or offend my own mother – what an amazing place Twitter could be…and, most of the time, already is.