Author: Kate O’Rourke
Interested in social media but not sure how best to use the platforms? There’s a society for that.
The recently launched Association for Healthcare Social Media (AHSM; ahsm.org) is the first professional society devoted to the use of social media by health care professionals, and the first 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization created by health care professionals for health care professionals.
“We are trying to not only provide resources for ourselves, but for patients and the general public, to better interpret social media posts when it comes to reading about health and developing best practices,” said Austin Chiang, MD, MPH, a founding member of the AHSM and the chief medical social media officer at Jefferson Health, in Philadelphia. “Nowadays, there is so much that could potentially go wrong and very little regulation.”
A month after it launched in May, AHSM had 420 dues-paying members, including physicians, nurses, dentists, physician assistants and clinical laboratory technicians. Dues are $49 for trainees and $149 for nontrainee members.
“This is different from just a Facebook group or an online forum. This is something like the AGA [American Gastroenterological Association] or ACG [American College of Gastroenterology] of health care social media that we hope resonates with academic institutions and professional societies, and is an actual concrete step toward reducing online health misinformation,” said Dr. Chiang, who also is the director of the endoscopic bariatric program at Jefferson Health. “We are multispecialty and multidisciplinary, with some very active social media gurus who have been using social media over the past decade.”
AHSM aims to reinvent and accelerate the sharing of health care information over all social media platforms, while employing social media as an educational tool, developing best practices of social media use in health care through evidence-based methods. The group advocates for the preservation of integrity of online medical information, and hopes to encourage the use of social media as an important tool in health care.
According to Bryan Vartabedian, MD, a pediatric gastroenterologist at Texas Children’s Hospital, in the Woodlands, and an advisor to AHSM, social media remains somewhat of a free-for-all. “There has yet to be any kind of organization to put any kind of boundaries or limits or offer guidance with regards to doctors using social media, and that is really where I see AHSM having the greatest potential value,” Dr. Vartabedian said.
A rising number of physicians are joining the ranks of public conversation on platforms including Twitter, Dr. Vartabedian said. “Three or four years ago, I thought we had hit a glass ceiling with regard to social engagement with doctors, but there continues to be a creeping rise of doctors engaging,” he said. For example, data from Symplur, a social media analytics company, showed a 41% increase in the number of Twitter users at the 2019 annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology over the previous year. “A growing number of doctors are using social media to have conversations about what is happening within their profession,” Dr. Vartabedian said.
AHSM was born out of a hashtag campaign on Instagram started by Dr. Chiang in September 2018. “Chiropractors were saying they were physicians, students were saying they were full-fledged doctors, and all of this was going on unchecked,” Dr. Chiang said. “I contacted many of the people who are active in using Instagram from a health perspective and said, ‘Let’s raise awareness by having a hashtag campaign and have everyone reveal their credentials and encourage followers to double- and triple-check who they follow online.’”
The campaign gained significant traction, with well over 1,500 posts with the hashtag, and put a spotlight on a problem: Health care professionals have no guidance for how to use social media. “There are other organizations for health care communication professionals, but not for physicians and nurses and dentists who are using it themselves,” Dr. Chiang said. “We felt the creation of the association was the necessary next step.”
Dr. Chiang stressed that AHSM is not out to police the internet. Rather, its founders want to develop a standardized way to disclose potential conflicts of interest (COIs) that’s easily interpretable by patients and provide guidance on how to act professionally while creating content. “The FTC [Federal Trade Commission] has recommendations to disclose sponsored content, but there is loose regulation on how industry COIs are presented on social media,” Dr. Chiang said. He said he is excited about ways the association can help individuals maximize the functions of the social media platforms, such as by creating a YouTube video or starting a podcast or hashtag campaign.
AHSM has 15 founding members and eight advisory board members. The advisory board is invitation only, said Dr. Chiang, but members can become more involved with the group by joining one of several AHSM committees focused on specific areas such as research, advocacy, outreach, finance or best practices.