ATLANTA—Should otolaryngologists use social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram to expand their professional network, engage with patients, or promote their published research? Four physicians at a panel discussion at the American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery (AAO–HNS) Annual Meeting in Atlanta on October 6, 2018, “#ENTSurgery: How Otolaryngologists Can Leverage Social Media to Promote Public Health, Disseminate Science and Build Their Professional Network,” said yes.
They offered their tips and potential pitfalls for social media use to fellow surgeons, who are increasingly online-curious. According to a 2018 study, social media was the preferred networking and communication tool for 22% of surveyed surgeons, and 70% of surgeons find social media useful for networking purposes, said moderator Alexander Langerman, MD, SM, a head and neck surgeon at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville (J Surg Educ. 2018;75:804–810).
Facebook and Twitter are the most popular platforms for surgeons, said Dr. Langerman, who noted that this session’s panel was arranged over Twitter—in just 24 hours. “All major healthcare professional conferences, organizations, and government and health policy agencies now have a social media presence. It is de rigueur,” said Dr. Langerman. “You can do a lot as a surgeon on Twitter. It is a great way to put yourself out there and get feedback.”
Curate Academic Information
Social media can seem crowded and noisy to a busy physician. Focus on curating academic information to enhance collaboration and stay up to date on surgical research, said Jennifer A. Villwock, MD, a rhinology and skull base surgeon at the University of Kansas Medical Center (@docwock). She also manages the Women in Rhinology account (@Women_Rhinology).
Consider how different readers may view your posts. “As you’re putting content onto the Internet, people don’t know your background, or what was happening with that patient or that research. It’s easy to post something that you think is benign and helpful, but it could be interpreted in different ways,” she said.
Professionals who read your tweets about your research may offer “pseudo-peer review,” said Dr. Villwock. “On Twitter, the peer review process is simplified. There’s a tweet, and then the ‘peer review’ is either retweeting, liking, or nothing. It offers a nice opportunity for potentially high-impact studies that may take a while to gain traction and gain a broader readership,” she added.
Curate information online by searching for hashtags related to research on specific topics, she said. One example: #UTI led her to tweets on post-surgical urinary tract infection management studies. “Social media is a great opportunity for that cross-pollination—how can we apply what’s being done in other fields to our field?”
One rising social media-driven innovation is the visual abstract, or a single-slide, graphic summary of a study’s main findings, said Andrew M. Ibrahim, MD, MSc, resident surgeon at the University of Michigan (@AndrewMIbrahim). He quickly shared four visual abstracts with the audience on a glioblastoma therapy trial, a children’s sleep study, a commentary on patient-centered hospital design, and a survey on barriers to developing surgical scientists.
“You are not an expert in any of those topics, but in just one minute, I gave you the movie trailer version of each study,” said Dr. Ibrahim, who also published a study on visual abstracts’ utility for disseminating research for a broader audience (Ann Surg. 2017;266:e46-e48). Visual abstracts are found on the Twitter feeds of major academic journals, and they may be linked to PubMed.com soon (see Figure 1).
Dr. Ibrahim, who previously trained in architecture and design, is on the editorial board of Annals of Surgery. In 2016, he launched the visual abstract concept after he was “totally geeked out” by the journal’s paper on London trauma centers. He designed a bold, illustrated yellow slide encapsulating the study’s data. In one week, the visual abstract had 35,000 Twitter impressions, a 17-fold increase from a regular tweet about the same study. Readership of the full article tripled, so the journal staff created 100 more visual abstracts of its published studies in 2017.
More than 75 academic journals now use visual abstracts, along with national health agencies. Search for #VisualAbstract on Twitter to view examples, or go to www.surgeryredesign.com/resources for a free, online, open-sourced primer of visual abstracts and a template for creating your own.
Use the same professional judgment on social media that you use offline, said Heather Logghe, MD, surgical research fellow at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia (@LoggheMD) and the co-author of a paper on best practices for surgeons using social media (J Am Coll Surg. 2018;226:317–327).
“Know the rules of your institution” for social media use, including whether yours requires your bio to state that your opinions online are your own, she said. Use the elevator test, she said. “If you wouldn’t be comfortable sharing a tweet or a photo in a crowded hospital elevator, it definitely does not belong online.”
Go beyond HIPAA to safeguard patient confidentiality on social media, she said. Patients or their families may recognize that your tweet refers to their particular case even if you don’t reveal their names.
Even when you discuss controversial topics on social media, try to stay positive, said Dr. Logghe.
“One strategy I follow when tweeting about difficult topics is to avoid putting my own judgment on it,” she said. State the facts, but don’t personally attack people or institutions online. “I encourage you to not stray from the difficult topics. Just because something is controversial doesn’t mean you should avoid it.” Run your tweet’s wording by trusted colleagues before you post it, she suggested.
“Also: Don’t feed the trolls. Trolls are those people who tend to be negative, want to detract from your message, or have their own agenda,” she said. Reply once to negative responses to clarify your message or ask them to clarify their comment. If the person continues to argue with you, gracefully allow them to have the last word.
“Know that you can delete your tweets later. Think twice, post once,” she said. “If you’re thinking about deleting or that it wasn’t a good idea to tweet something, delete it. You can always repost it after you’ve thought it through.”
Susan Bernstein is a freelance medical writer based in Georgia.