More doctors 'consulting' on social media

Monday, 24 June 2013

Medical doctors are taking to social media in greater numbers, and new research at the University of Adelaide is looking at what doctors consider to be the main risks of 'consulting' with the public in this way.

Media Studies Masters student Margarita Flabouris says there has been increasing encouragement within the Australian medical profession to use social media, but there are minimal guidelines currently available for the profession.

"The main message has been: this is new technology so we should use it. But there's still little understanding among many health professionals about how or why to use it, how to use it well, and what the pitfalls might be," Ms Flabouris says.

"Most doctors use Twitter for peer-to-peer communication, but some are using it for health promotion and marketing purposes, providing information about health to the general public.

"This raises a number of questions about how to do this in a way that really engages with the public, how to provide information that is relevant to other social media users, and whether issues such as patient confidentiality and privacy are taken into consideration when discussing medical conditions.

"Such issues are not new to the medical profession. However, the nature of social media technology is such that if there any problems with what doctors are saying to the public, those problems can become widespread very quickly," she says.

One expert who uses social media to raise awareness of medical issues is the University of Adelaide's Professor Gary Wittert, who goes by @ProfDocHealth on Twitter. Professor Wittert is Head of the University's Discipline of Medicine and is an expert on obesity and men's health.

"Twitter is very useful for multiple reasons," Professor Wittert says.

"I like to make the public aware of any research we've published, so that they know this work can translate into health care. If someone else has published research that I think is interesting I also share it, so Twitter is very useful for disseminating that information.

"Also, if there are real problems with information out there in social media - such as about a drug or a device, and people are getting the wrong message - it's relatively easy to correct it by using social media.

"As health professionals, we can play an important role to help to dispel myths and provide reliable information to the public," he says.

Ms Flabouris says she hopes the results of her research will be transferable to other professions that dabble in social media for marketing and promotion purposes.


Contact Details

Margarita Flabouris
Masters of Philosophy (MPhil) student
Discipline of Media
The University of Adelaide
Mobile: 0417 865 276

Mr David Ellis
Deputy Director, Media and Corporate Relations
External Relations
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 5414
Mobile: +61 (0)421 612 762