Like it or loathe it, social media is pretty much inescapable. It’s used by your family, friends, and increasingly by institutions and corporate entities to connect and share ideas, market and promote. Statista puts worldwide social media usage at 2.22 billion people, so it’s no surprise that it has been utilised, and continues to be, to the extent to which we are now accustomed.
It’s been proved that it’s possible to connect with all kinds of people using social platforms, so why should the resource fall solely into the hands of multi-million dollar companies like Coca-Cola and McDonalds, for whom advertising is merely a formality, as oppose to a make-or-break necessity?
Perhaps it needn’t.
Due to the fairly self-regulating nature of some of healthcare’s more specialised areas, the burden falls predominantly on us to showcase innovations and engage with patients, prospective students and fellow professionals. Networking tools like LinkedIn are already being used to connect professionals, even from physiology backgrounds. This platform is relatively self-serving, being a predominantly business to business niche, but according to current statistics it has seen a rise in use to over 60 million views per month in 2016, so is undeniably a great tool to use for quick networking with other like-minded individuals.
Of course, social media can be used to network with everyone, not just our own, so, in the same way that we utilise more than one test to make a diagnosis, we should be using the whole spectrum of tools in this instance, shouldn’t we? Facebook (1.6 billion users worldwide) and Twitter (325 million) usage polls would suggest that users are logging on for a surprisingly narrow selection of reasons. 68% (Twitter) and 65% (Facebook) of users state that they log on to keep abreast of the latest news relevant to themselves, and 63% and 48% of Twitter and Facebook users respectively, use the platforms to receive information relevant to their personal interests. These present huge, potentially untapped resources for healthcare professionals, that can be used to promote transparency and trust, gain feedback and keep colleagues and patients informed.
I’ve mentioned before, the relatively unknown nature of physiology as a profession, so I think that taking hold of the opportunities available on Twitter, and other forms of social media could be something that could benefit physiological science. One of my favourite online healthcare personalities is Mr Olivier Branford, a plastic surgeon in London. He advocates education as a resource that should be available to all, and public engagement as a high priority. Olivier has over 62.1k followers and uses Twitter to provide news relevant to his specialism, and to wider healthcare in general. I conversed with him about the use of social media as a free platform to provide evidence, studies, inspiration and information to students, prospective students and patients everywhere, and we both agreed that it was the perfect resource to utilise. We aren’t alone, however; Olivier ran a telling informal poll, the results of which I have displayed below, enquiring as to what other users believed was the best way for plastic surgeons to use social media, and I feel that the words “plastic surgeon” can be substituted for any within the health service with a similar outcome. As you can no doubt see; despite the unscientific nature of the evidence, the percentages speak for themselves.
Whilst it would be incorrect to state that healthcare organisations have no presence on social media, they don’t dominate in the same way that more commercial entities do, at least not in the UK. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it is a lost cause, however. Mr Branford has provided a personal touch that corporate entities cannot emulate; his approach of “evidence not opinion” when dealing with healthcare information, is complimented by his willingness to offer an opinion when it’s relevant, on top of the facts. This transparency is refreshing, and, in conjunction with his professional accolades, is surely something that has aided him in gaining over 62.1k people who want to listen to what he has to say. The cardiac physiology profession is notoriously under-staffed, and whilst the numbers of applicants is on the increase, a quick visit to various college forums shows that the ins and outs of the career are still lost on many students (if you can find a discussion at all). The general career pathways and the salaries seem to be known to these confused individuals, but the actual job is what nobody has much of an idea about. How are we to persuade these potential cardiac scientists to sign up if they don’t know what they’ll be doing for the rest of their professional lives? Asking someone to commit their future to a career and saddle themselves with increasing debt when they don’t really have a great deal of information readily available to them is a far cry from the informed consent we strive to gain from our patients. Taking responsibility, and putting some research into one’s own future is obviously something everyone has to get used to, but I’m sure most people remember how overwhelming that was, so the shortage of new staff members must be more complicated than students simply not looking hard enough. Besides which, it SHOULDN’T be so difficult to find this career..! I’ve got a year to go until I qualify, and I’ve met some truly inspiring people whom, if I wasn’t already on my way, I know could easily convince me to start. We find what we do fascinating, so surely some of these young minds will be just as invested if they have the chance to see it for themselves.
The Pew Research Centre provides data that places 16-24 year olds as the most avid users of social media (above), and displays a steady growth of users across all age groups year-on-year since 2005, so with a collective effort, it surely wouldn’t be too difficult to a) entice some of these users who are in the middle of their A-Levels, and unsure of which healthcare profession is for them, and b) come together as a profession in a more open and approachable manner to showcase our science and how much of an impact we have on medical diagnostics.
Olivier Branford is a plastic surgeon and associate editor of PRS Global Open journal, and can be found on Twitter under his eponymous handle @OlivierBranford.
Social media statistics obtained from The Pew Research Centre, Statista & Visually