Studies show uptick in doc social media use

By Molly Merrill
11:48 AM

Two separate studies, released within weeks of one another, point to the fact that physicians are entering the online space professionally.

QuantiaMD, a mobile and online physician community, and Care Continuum Alliance, an international association for wellness, prevention and care management, released a study in September of 4,033 clinicians that found 65 percent of them had used at least one social media site to support their professional practice.

A second study, “‘Meaningful Use’ of Social Media by Physicians,” was released as part of a panel discussion at the Stanford Summit & Medicine 2.0 Congress later that month. It included responses from a total of 186 U.S. oncologists and 299 U.S. primary care physicians. Unlike the study by QuantiaMD, which focused on whether or not physicians were using social media, the second study lead by Brian McGowan, senior director, oncology, Medical Education Group, Pfizer Inc., focused on how doctors are using it to share professional information.

Mary Modahl, chief communications officer at QuantiaMD, says there are two big takeaways that came out of their study: first, how quickly social media is growing among physicians; second, the positive response shown by physicians who were familiar with online patient communities.

The study found that some 28 percent of physicians already use professional physician communities, with the highest enthusiasm around using them to learn from experts and peers. Modahl notes that it’s “early days yet,” but says that “we are starting to see a broad swath of physicians connecting with each other.”

The study found that only 11 percent of participants were familiar with online patient communities – but of those with a familiarity, two-thirds believe those communities have a positive effect on patients. Almost 40 percent of these physicians say they already recommend these communities to their patients and another 40 percent would consider recommending them.

"Patient communities clearly have a role to play in managing health across the continuum and we've seen tremendous interest in communities supporting wellness, chronic disease and rare conditions," said Tracey Moorhead, Care Continuum Alliance president and CEO.

Although we are moving into an “era” where doctors and patient go online for care, says Modahl, “it remains to be seen if they will meet and connect here and in what context.”

As for how it compares to McGowan’s study? “I think they are very much in sync in terms of overall findings – that social media is growing very quickly professionally and personally,” she says.

Bryan Vartabedian, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine, and the doctor behind the blog 33 Charts, was on the panel that discussed the second study. He calls it an “early stab at a peer-reviewed analysis of social media.” But points out that “two years ago, we wouldn’t have enough doctors in public social spaces for this kind of research.”

Similar to QuantiaMD’s study, McGowan’s report found that behind e-mail, restricted online communities were the social media resource most used by doctors, with 51.5 percent saying they were current users. Both studies showed low adoption of Twitter and Facebook.

Vartabedian shared some key points of the study:

• A third of physicians had never used LinkedIn. “Docs aren’t clued into the concept of digital footprint like marketers are,” he says, adding that LinkedIn is geared more for resume-building professionals that are making vertical moves as opposed to the horizontal ones made by most physicians.

• The larger a practice is, the more apt they are to share information socially. Whether this is because they have more resources to do so is unclear.

• Physicians vary, specialty to specialty, in social media use. For example, oncologists are more skeptical of new media. “It is quite possible if we extended this study to other subspecialties, we will find more stark differences,” he says.

• Social media adoption is not age-dependent. Vartabedian points out that this is not the first study to suggest this.

• 40 percent of doctors are sharing medical information via text messaging. This is especially prevalent in residency, where it is valued for its benefits to workflow, says Vartabedian.