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Social Media – Frenemy of Healthcare Professionals?

Submitted by on October 12, 2013 – 11:03 PM

black-and-whiteWe are not unaware of the control social media has these days. It is igniting the fire for new revolutions. It is promoting and defaming personalities and is a channel of news and information more effective and powerful than print, electronic or any other form of media that ever existed and it is getting more and more powerful as we move forward. From a niche to interact with and meet new people to a place where you share what you like, feel, eat, and experience; social media has now become a lifestyle.


It has been a long time since doctors and healthcare professionals have jumped on to the social media bandwagon. If you don’t have an account on Facebook, you don’t have a basic necessity of life. It’s quite like not having a car. Recent studies have shown that a remarkable percentage of doctors use social media for professional and personal purposes.


In this retrospect, how should the medical community utilize social media? It has been argued that doctors don’t have a choice when it comes to keeping a low profile. If you do a good job, your patient is going to tell five other people. If you do a bad one, he’s going to tell ten other people.


This is basic human nature: we like to talk more about our miseries. In social media, this figure of 5 to 10 people multiplies to 50-100 people (and even more). Patients who get treatment would talk about it on social media whether the doctors like it or not. A good social media presence would lead to a better dealing with criticisms and creating a better rapport among the patients.


As they say, “In Social Media the “squeaky wheel” gets the oil.” You have to express your point of view and your life if you want other people to interact or even debate with you. As much as you don’t want to squander the opportunity, you don’t want to risk wasting your time updating statuses in excuse of helping people out. In terms of education, the medical students have groups where they can share information and help others.


There are groups where students share books, compete in multiple choice quizzes related to their subjects, and there are many other opportunities where students can show their talents and, better yet, be aware of new advances in their field. Like for example, I wouldn’t have known about this writing competition if it weren’t for social media. I became the Elsevier Student Ambassador for 2013-2014. Only 100 students were selected in this program from South Asia.


And a fair share of credit goes to social media. I had the opportunity to know about it, apply for it and then get selected for it. The benefits of social media are not restricted to online endeavors alone. It was only due to this social media that Dr. MuzaffarHussainQureshi was able to successfully carry out the Mercy Mission Dental Camp earlier this year in the underprivileged community of Kala Shah Kaku.


The team provided free of cost oral care and treatment to over 1300 patients. We performed 9500 procedures on these patients under the supervision of Dr. Muzaffar and were able to log 275 physician visits besides dental treatments. Our team worked for 36 hours for three days. This effort to bring smiles on the faces of the less fortunate was only made possible because of the effective social media marketing campaign that attracted so many volunteers. Last year when Dr. Muzaffar came to Pakistan, he had only twelve people accompanying him to the dental camp.


This year they had approximately a hundred volunteers. This points toward the increase in the effectiveness of social media with time. Moreover, social media is the cheapest and very effective advertisement platform. Healthcare organizations can connect with people on a deeper level and a better feedback could be obtained through it.


This is no secret that everything that goes on the internet remains there forever. Once it’s out there, you cannot take it down. So being related to such a sacred profession, acts of ‘bravery’ like opening your personal life to strangers on the internet damages your repute because any one of them could be your patient one day and how you make use of social media greatly affects what the patients would think of you in terms of your medical practice. Cheap publicity of ‘healthcare business’, especially by the pharmaceutical companies gives a bad impression.


Anything that you normally do, you can overdo it on social media. Advertising health wrongly in the mask of health education is a very bad tradition that the social media has given birth to. Cheap publicity of healthcare taints the sanctity of the profession. Society has raised our profession to such a high pedestal that regular business marketing seems inappropriate.


We consider healthcare as a profession where we help the needy get rid of their pain and that’s about it. Healthcare organizations should be very careful in protecting the grace of the profession in their marketing campaigns on social media. While WebMD and similar websites have added a lot of knowledge and contributed to the health literacy of people, they have also made people less dependent on their physicians. Considering this scenario and the fact that our generation is a lazy generation; healthcare through social media can have drastic effect on how the clinics operate.


We want things done without having to move. Dental Phobia, for example, is already a well recognized condition. With social media and ‘free-advice’ gurus available online, people who already are scared to visit their dentists will find an excuse to not visit them and find the cure to their pain online. This is a bad habit and this is quickly increasing in practice around the world.


Facebook can be used to guide a person to the clinic, to set up appointments, it can also be set up to ethical advertising, but if you start diagnosing your patients online that would be a totally different story. We as doctors have a moral duty to refer each patient to visit an actual clinic and get themselves diagnosed for real. There is no substitute to original diagnosis in person. The credibility of anything is questionable in social media.


People can effortlessly make fake accounts and write fake prescriptions. An undergraduate engineering student sitting behind a computer can portray himself as a doctor and can give you advice on your upper neck swelling and there is no possible way to find that out. Only a few celebrities have verified and authentic social media accounts. Healthcare professionals cannot be verified simply through their social media profiles and it is, thus, a big question mark to the credibility of the information available from there.


On the contrary, studies show that more people are moving towards social media sites to get healthcare advice. Is this the end of credible medicine? We don’t know yet.


But we do know one thing. Social Media is not a friend or an enemy. It can be either. If we use it wisely, I am certain it will boost our clinical practice and rapport.


About the Author: Muhammad Haris Iqbal, final year student of BDS(Bachelor of Dental Surgery) at de’ Montmorency College of Dentistry is currently an Elsevier Student Ambassador 2013-2014. He can be reached at [email protected]


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