Doctors Turn to Social Media for Medical Information

Jeanette Mulvey, BusinessNewsDaily Managing Editor

Social media has gained traction among doctors who use various social media platforms to stay on top of the latest medical findings and confer with fellow doctors.

A new survey shows that about 1 in 4 physicians uses social media daily or multiple times a day to scan or explore medical information, and 14 percent use social media each day to contribute new information, according to an oncologist at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center in Baltimore.

The survey of 485 oncologists and primary care physicians also found that 61 percent of physicians scan for information and 46 percent contribute new information on a weekly basis or more than weekly.

 The kind of social media doctors use tends to be less general and more  specific to their profession, the researchers said. For example, more than half of doctors surveyed said they use online physician-only communities, while only 7 percent said they use Twitter.

The researchers also found a difference in what kind of information doctors were seeking. Oncologists are more likely to use social media to keep up with innovation, for example, while primary care physicians are more likely to use social media to get in touch with peers and learn from them, the survey found.

Of 485 practicing physicians surveyed, nearly 60 percent said social media is beneficial, engaging and a good way to get current, high-quality information. Other doctors said social media enables them to care for patients more efficiently and improves the quality of patient care they deliver. What influenced a physician’s usage of social media most were perceived ease of use and usefulness. Physicians who had positive attitudes toward social media were more likely to use it. Neither age nor gender affected use of social media.

Since the survey was conducted in March 2011, it’s likely that more physicians are using social media now, says Robert S. Miller, an assistant professor of oncology and an oncology medical information officer at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center. The amount of information required for medical practice is growing exponentially, he said, and social media provides “a very valid construct for physicians to keep current.”

“What did surprise us was the heavy use of online physician-only communities,” Miller says. “It’s possible that many physicians feel more comfortable with that type of social media instead of a more public space like Twitter or Facebook.”

The researchers defined social media as “Internet-based applications that allow for the creation and exchange of user-generated content, including social networking, professional online communities, wikis, blogs and microblogging.”

More studies are needed to determine how social media impacts physicians’ knowledge, attitudes, skills and behaviors, and its usage among other populations of health care professionals, Miller said.

The work was published recently in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

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