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Health Science Degrees Should Include Classes in Social Media

Anyone considering a health science degree after high school needs to reflect on how social media can fit into a medical practice. The exponential growth of technology has lead to some amazing changes in both the way healthcare professionals are trained and their job duties once they have a career. Many patients are beginning to look toward virtual care options, something that students need to be prepped for and professionals need to prepare for.

For example, according to an article in U.S. News and World Report, Dr. Thomas Lee, an orthopedist in Ohio, stamps his Facebook page address onto his business cards. He uses Facebook for big initiatives, like promoting an annual fitness challenge for his patients, as well as for day-to-day conversation with the people who come into his practice. Social media has also become useful to the La Jolla Cosmetic Surgery Center in California. The center posts success stories and patient notes in addition to explaining treatment options and procedures.

Many people think of social media as a way to hook up with friends or to keep in touch with family. Health science professionals are discovering that social media is a way to build a community. Whether sharing new medical research developments, posting reminders about The Great American Smokeout or tweeting from a medical convention, medical professionals can not only make a positive impact on their patients’ lives but also make themselves more accessible to patients. Many new apps even allow for remote monitoring of chronic illnesses. Patients who feel more comfortable with their doctors are more likely to share honest details about their conditions, which makes them more likely to receive better treatment.

Of course, health science professionals who post to Facebook or Twitter should know their limits. For instance, some patients may tweet a question about a personal medical condition to their doctor. Instead of tweeting back, which could violate the patient’s privacy, doctors should follow up with a phone call or with a scheduled appointment. A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that some medical professionals also inappropriately prescribed drugs to some patients over social media, even though they had never met the patient. Additionally, some doctors misrepresented their credentials, falsely claiming to be board certified in certain specialty areas.

Like anything online, social media can be used for useful purposes or for the wrong purposes. Anything found on the web, even information supposedly coming from a doctor, should be checked out thoroughly. For medical professionals who use social media appropriately, however, the biggest winners are the patients. In Dr. Lee’s practice, for example, over 100 patients posted pictures of themselves participating in the fitness challenge. In addition to becoming more fit, patients were able to meet others who were doing the challenge and to support them in their efforts. In social media communities like the La Jolla Cosmetic Surgery Center’s, patients can find accurate information about sensitive topics like plastic surgery that they may be afraid to ask their doctors.

If your health science curriculum doesn’t offer social media classes, then you can benefit from resources like the Mayo Clinic’s Center for Social Media, which offers webinars and conferences that teach healthcare professionals to get involved in social media. As you look into the future, look into Facebook as more than a place to post your latest pictures or that funny YouTube video that you just saw. In the right health professional’s hands, Facebook could save somebody’s life.