The Impact of Social Media on Early Career Cardiologists

Social media is having an increased impact on medicine and changing the way health care providers, including cardiologists, interact with each other and their patients. Using Twitter, or any other social media network, allows cardiologists to reach beyond office, clinic and academic medicine to patients and the public, two groups that have traditionally been hard to engage. The dynamic nature of social media, with its instant availability through our mobile devices, is rapidly transforming the way we engage in society and enhance professional communication.

Social media helps disseminate new research and facilitate discussions among physicians across the globe. Recently, Twitter has been attractive to researchers and academicians in the field of cardiovascular medicine to share their science and ideas and to discuss trial results. It is worth noticing that when social media is used correctly, there are many important ways it can improve the medical field. Not only can you spread information faster and engage in a wider discussion with other cardiologists, but you may also be able to influence public opinion and help shape policies that affect the entire medical field.

Earlier this year a group of interventional cardiologists launched the #RadialFirst hashtag on Twitter to educate and advocate for radial artery access in patients undergoing coronary angiography. The goal was to engage cardiologists and patients in the community with discussions related to transradial access that might drive high adoption of this procedure. Twitter and #RadialFirst enhanced the interactions between interventionalists because of the ability to post videos and images, teaching new techniques and troubleshooting difficult cases. This initiative is slowly closing the knowledge gap between early and advanced career operators and allowing them to ask questions and learn techniques under one domain.

The ACC has been one of the early supporters of social media utilization for education, news and updates. The ACC embraced the idea of social media being one of the major domains to communicate both with cardiologists who are members and with those who are not. Due to the quick spread of social media use by early career cardiologists, the College launched the #ACCEarlyCareer hashtag to engage early career cardiologists on social media with discussions, news and updates related to their practices. Through social media platforms – mainly Twitter – the hashtag use has expanded to discuss clinical cases, practice and mentorship concerns.

Despite the advantage of being dynamic and accessible to the public, social media has certain limitations in the medical field. In certain instances, physicians could publish educational images or videos without consideration of patient privacy. This could be harmful to the patient and the physician's career. Although there are no guidelines for medical posting on social media, physicians should be vigilant and avoid violating patients' privacy. Furthermore, it is hard to control the discussions with potential to deviate from the main objective of the post that was published. Different from peer-review papers, users do not have to declare relevant conflicts of interest that could give wrong impressions to members of the public who are not experts in the field. Finally and most importantly, the presence of researchers and clinicians on social media is low in comparison with other segments of the population, which makes large amounts of information available to the public without proper adjudication. Thus, there is an urgent need for experts to review social media posts and give their expert, unbiased opinion to help the public make the right choices and have the right impression.

The use of social media platforms, such as Twitter, is a powerful tool for rapid dissemination of scientific content and to gather like-minded users regardless of geographic or other barriers. This will not only help keep health care providers up-to-date on developments in their field but also potentially save lives.

This article was authored by M. Chadi Alraies, MD, (@chadialraies) a Fellow in Training at Medstar Washington Hospital Center in Washington, DC.