Doctors and social media might not seem like a healthy relationship. Yet, many physicians have tackled and overcome privacy and other issues to enhance contact with patients and peers.
For more than a decade, Dr. Remo-tito Aguilar has blogged about improving medical education, patient care, sustainable ecotourism, social innovation and research on social media. He is an orthopedic surgeon in South Central Mindanao, the Philippines.
“Ten years is a stretch considering how fast social media and other online tools appear on our screens,” he said. Among his social colleagues, he asked what they get from using social media. How do they help people, advance their careers and perhaps earn money?
“Defining success in any field is never an easy task,” Aguilar said. “Measuring the impact of a tool — such as social media — to that success, is even harder. If we define success as an observable change in a person or a society, however, success is measurable.”
With other healthcare providers, he discussed motivations for social media success in healthcare.
“I realize that my students are more techie than I am,” Dr. Helen Madamba said. “They told me they write on their blog on their cellphones while in traffic. I didn’t even know there was an app for that. You learn something new every day.”
An obstetrics-gynecology trainer and HIV advocate in the Philippines, Madamba uses social media to connect people with other advocates.
Social media makes it easy to spread the word about healthcare and other issues. That makes it essential to provide, support and embrace facts to counter rampant speculations on the internet.
“Some social media helped me connect with people supportive of the same advocacy,” Madamba said. “With the HIV awareness advocacy, we connect student leaders, faculty HIV coordinators, and chiefs of hospitals thru Facebook. We formed #TEACHCebu — Targeting Enhanced Awareness and Control of HIV in Cebu.
“This amazing group of medical student leaders in Cebu is making things happen to improve HIV awareness and reduce stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV,” she said. “Through #TEACGCebu, each medical school organized an HIV forum for their students and encouraged HIV screening.”
More notably, social media has shined amid dire circumstances.
“We use it to invite and encourage people to save lives — especially saving mothers from hemorrhage — through voluntary blood donations,” Madamba said.
Being online also lowers inhibitions in a good way.
“Many people find it difficult to talk face to face,” Madamba said. “Social media provides them with an anonymous platform to express themselves and help with mental health.”
Social media also has been a big professional help for Dr. Iris Thiele Isip-Tan. She is an endocrinologist and clinical associate professor at the University of the Philippines College of Medicine.
“My Facebook page supports my advocacy to improve health literacy in endocrine disease,” Tan said. “I write in Filipino. I’m still figuring out how to measure success.
“I was talking with someone about studying the dengue vaccine narrative on Twitter last month,” she said. “Just the other day I got an email asking me to review the protocol. That’s exciting.”
Tan is especially thankful for Twitter.
“I run workshops on using Twitter to establish personal learning networks for medical educators and physicians,” she said. “My experience being on the #HealthXPh Twitter chat definitely helped.
“I won a teaching award in 2015, which would not have been possible without guidance from some helpful folks on Twitter,” Tan said.
There also is a stronger bond in classrooms.
“I’m still feeling my way around my new job as a career academic — transitioning from my health policy research experience,” Dr. Jaifred F. “Jim” Lopez said. “I know social media helps in education. I use hashtags to start a discussion, and my students love it.”
Lopez teaches epidemiology at the College of Public Health, University of the Philippines Manila. He also does research in health policy and management.
“I will always be a researcher at heart,” he said. “There is an urge for me to share the passion for research to the future generations, as well as middle managers seeking to advance their public health careers.”
Mental health presents a different, delicate realm to address, which Dr. Stephanie Eloisa D. Miaco knows well. She is a psychiatrist from Dumaguete City, the Philippines, and advocates about how to improve delivery of mental health services for all.
“Mental health and its corresponding health issues were once taboo topics to talk about,” Miaco said. “With the advent of social media use to strengthen advocacies, the students I’ve worked with have been more active in asking relevant questions and putting forth far-reaching projects.
“I learn a lot from different leaders in the field of mental health via social media,” she said. “There is free interaction. Years into it, I am still amazed by how much one can grow there.”
Motivations behind using social media for an advocacy vary by profession. For instance, Dr. Aileen Dualan is in the corporate world as the Asia Pacific medical affairs lead for MSD pharmaceuticals.
“Social media has broad and diverse reach,” she said. “The challenge is reaching the right targets and separating signals from noise.
“I have the ability to measure certain parameters,” Dualan said. “It’s real time with instant feedback and permanence of the footprint. Most importantly there’s self-discovery and improvement. I remember when I started blogging. I’ve changed a lot, hopefully for the better since then.”
Aguilar’s quest on social media has no destination.
“Sustained success of advocacies with social media is related to intrinsic motivations and deep engagements,” he said. “My goal was a personal one: lifelong learning.
“Social pressures and the ease of using social media helped glue my motivations, but these couldn’t possibly sustain me for 10 years on social media,” Aguilar said.
There is not only the social aspect but the reach to use as motivation.
“Social media brings people in different continents closer together,” Lopez said. “Social media gives me the chance to discuss with people having similar passions, worldwide. Mind-blowing!”
Tan faced an ethical dilemma when she started her Facebook page, which she discussed during a TEDx Talk.
“Connecting with people is made a whole lot easier when everybody has Facebook Messenger or Viber,” Madamba said. “It’s a great way to have online conversations for support and brainstorming — wherever you may be, whatever time of the day or night.
“Instead of writing reflections on paper, I encourage my students to create and personalize their blogs for their e-portfolios,” she said. “That’s easier on my back from carrying heavy paperwork.”
If you’re active and credible on social media, you can readily build influence. That gives you an ideal position to advocate for what you believe.
“I’ve got one personal motivation—using social media for advocacies as part of my lifelong learning,” Aguilar said. “For mentoring and learning at the same time, I can’t imagine learning without the ease of social media.”
Madamba spelled out her ABCs of social media advocacy:
- A – Abstain from anything that distracts you from your goal.
- B – Be faithful to your advocacy; walk the talk.
- C – Check your status. Measure. Evaluate.
- D – Don’t inject negativity; ignore naysayers.
- E – Educate yourself, lifelong learning.
“Social media allows you to multiply yourself and spread your key messages for anyone who would listen, especially those who need to hear specific messages,” Madamba said.
“When you have an advocacy, you live and breathe it and put your passion into it,” she said. “You maximize your connections and use whatever tool or avenue to spread the key messages. Social media is one such tool. It is all about person to person and communities like #HealthXPh and #TEACHCebu.”
Miaco welcome the online impact for her advocacy.
“Social media has the widest reach and the fastest way to get feedback for causes that are important and emergent, especially with mental health involved,” she said. “Many people are online and wired, and benefit so much from this.
In her years since tentatively starting her Facebook page, Tan has found a home.
“I’ve been telling people I’m a Twitter evangelist,” she said. “My personal learning network is there. My Facebook page is around six years old. I try to keep it going. It warms the heart when people I don’t know tell me I’ve helped them.”
Likewise, Dualan likes the social company she keeps.
“I ‘meet’ great folks virtually, find like minds faster and locate the ‘tribe,’” she said. “Like any tech, social media can be a double-edged sword. People make the difference. If we choose to use it for good, it will be good.”
Lopez falls back on the advantages for his research.
“Access to the internet allows participants to look up any facts right away,” he said. “I encourage my students to take advantage of this during tweet discussions. Kids these days are so lucky.
“Ask yourself this question: ‘What are you so passionate about that you’d want the whole world to know about?’ Look how other people with similar passions go about it in social media, and make the jump,” Lopez said. “It’s difficult at first, but worth it.”