Beginners Social Media in Medical Education

So we need to talk about Social Media.

I helped to present at the Women In General practice conference a Social Media familiarisation session for Female doctors.  This was held on June 1st 2013 at Yarra Valley Lodge about an hour north of Melbourne Victoria, Australia.  This by the way is my first blog too so the adventure into the online medical space continues.

My talk segment was about Medical Education via Twitter.

 I puzzled over how to introduce SoMe Med Ed to the non-convinced.

Medical Education on Twitter

I discussed 140 characters with links to be saved or short articles as an ideal way for time poor female GP’s to broaden their range of access to medical journal articles and international medical opinion.

I demonstrated the great medical organisations on Twitter; I demonstrated the fabulous Medical Drs both international and local that I follow; I demonstrated all the journals that I had accessed that I didn’t necessarily subscribe to.  My medical reading has certainly widened since my adventures with Twitter began.

I put up lovely photos of women screaming as they became technologically literate with Social Media.  It got the necessary laughs so I believe it resonated.  Learning a new way of Medical Education and using newish technology is not out of the capability of Doctors, however having the time to devote to firstly familiarisation and exploration and then refining your mode of use can prove frustrating.

technologically literate

The use of the hash tag and UK based reference site was briefly discussed as a means of collecting items under a topic header.  Items like journal clubs or tweet chats, or disease topics.

For those who like a collaborative peer network I discussed how I had commented on articles as well as discussing mentoring in medicine with a female chest physician in London as an example of Twitter’s usefulness.

Then I demonstrated a little bit of the “HOW” but I know we need to follow up with workshop sessions.  I did give in the notes resources like  with its comprehensive University standard social media course although I stressed that I hadn’t done any of the hour long modules yet, as Twitter was fairly straight forward to set up.  Truly it’s easy to start and set up an account just follow the prompts and the help page if needed.

I encouraged a playful strategy of just signing up and not to worry about decorating your page just yet.  Bona fides was an interesting topic as I believe eventually having a real photo of yourself and your professional name increases the connection and validation.  However it wasn’t absolutely necessary and there are many examples of Drs on Twitter who are anonymous.  If I don’t know and sense that they are a Medical Doctor however, I personally won’t follow them.  For me, I like the collaboration and connection, but not everyone is the same which needs to be stated.  Its not a reason not to get involved however.

I showed the “Tweet” button on the local medical journals the delegates were reading in paper or online format and how simple it was to tweet once your twitter account was set up.  Sometimes it might be a “Share” button in some of the overseas journals.  For guidelines we showed a simplified screen shot of the mayo clinic social media guidelines. How you behave in your consulting room is how you behave on Social Media.  Its very straightforward.

I think I had at least some of them curious and interested at this stage regarding the scope of Medical Education on Twitter. So far so good.

Then my colleagues discussed blogs, a practice based Facebook page for patients and a patient information website of a female hand surgeon which was interactive.

That’s when things became interesting.

Female GPs in this audience were not ready or cautious regarding patient engagement on Social Media.  For me personally I actually agree with them.  That doesn’t mean of course that this shouldn’t be pursued debated or implemented.  I think it does depend on your readiness and as far as presenting an education meeting this was about familiarisation and an overview of what is happening.  Dr Charles  Alpren and  Dr Jill Tomlinson are experienced IT users and very comfortable with the technology and managing the necessary boundaries that patient engagement requires.  I believe that this may be the next step and it was an important discussion to have.  Jill is Social media Editor of the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Surgery as well as being the retired Web master of the Australian Federation of Medical Women.  Just having these roles demonstrates the validity and usefulness of the technology.

The arguments around patient engagement on Social Media

Like many GP’s I don’t have time to further extend my surgery hours nor is there any return on investment for patient engagement for me at this stage.  If you are a practice owner, situated remotely or maybe a media Doctor or if you are a specialist maybe this is different.  Most GP’s have more than enough patients and establishing adequate boundaries between home and work is a necessary self-care strategy.  Burn Out is all too common and a dangerous patient safety factor in workforce planning.  Then again for selected patients they do have my practice email as this is less disturbing to me than a telephone call or more commonly the game of telephone tag.  I think sending an email is a cheaper strategy, a more defined and auditable method than multiple missed mobile phone calls.

However the other interesting part of this discussion is that the patients are already on Social Media and sourcing health care information of various quality.  One only has to mention the anti-vaccination lobby of Australia to know how dubious some of this information may be.  Doctors and good health information need to be online.  It is a reasonable argument that reliable medical sources of an interactive nature be available.  At this stage I don’t believe many of our representative organisations are going there, as similar to individual Doctors concerns, there are necessary return on investment issues, staffing, administration issues and legal boundaries that can choke this necessary discussion.  There are good reference sites that we are probably all using now like the  and Royal children’s hospital websites but the interactivity of Social Media has yet to be teased out I believe.  None of that should stifle ongoing discussion however. We need to be mindful that our patients are way ahead of us.




This was the magic trick as far as I was concerned giving the newbies to Social Media time and permission to explore without collaborating.   To follow my twitter account  karenprice@brookmanknight  or CharlesAlpren@ChazzaiA or Jilltomlinson@jilltomlinson  as a way of starting.  To follow all my followers and my followers followers on Twitter will shortcut any inadvertent newbie mistakes.   To just be a passive receiver of medical news headlines, journal articles collated and sourced by an international reputable medical community and to follow the discussions, journal clubs and health care based tweet chats and conversations merely as an observer.  This was seen as a low risk strategy, and a means of becoming familiar with the technology.  A lot of the delegates came up to me afterwards for further information on this as a beginning strategy.   I hope they have enough resources.   I hope we have moved some members out of the pre contemplative stage for behaviour change.  There is much much more to come I believe with technology, education and communication in the Medical world.  There are great benefits for time poor female GP’s.  It’s fabulous to have free open access medical information.  For our rural and remote buddies there are fantastic resources that overcome the tyranny of distance.  It’s certainly within everyone’s capacity to become familiar.  It’s my advice to get curious and get technologically literate.  You don’t have to talk to the patients just yet, but there are plenty of good examples and mentors should you wish to engage this way.  Focus your intent and enjoy.

Dr Karen Price