RSNA Trendwatch: Social Media Gaining Ground

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Those of us who work in media have been singing this song for a few years now, but radiology as a profession must also start acknowledging the power of social media — as well as the risks of abstaining from it, advised Elliot Fishman, MD, of Johns Hopkins in an RSNA 2013 session about patient-centered radiology.

Noting that just three years ago, he himself would have advised a radiologist wanting to use social media that such use was unprofessional and detrimental to the profession as a whole, Fishman characterized his path toward changing his tune. A cursory PubMed search revealed the penetration of social media as a means of communication to patients in many other specialty areas. Fishman asked himself what was preventing radiology from similar experimentation — especially given the field's historical difficulty with connecting with patients.

Even as face time in health care becomes increasingly difficult to fit in, patient use of Facebook and Twitter is on the rise, Fishman pointed out. "Instead of being afraid of our patients finding health information online, we should be trying to reach them there," he said.

He pointed to surveys indicating that patients are much more willing to use social media for health care interactions than many in the industry might think. Almost half of those questioned for one survey said they wouldn't mind sharing health information via social media, and a strong majority indicated that they'd like to be able to get help from their physicians through social media.

Hospitals and health systems are getting in the game. In fact, University of Michigan has actually recruited some patient advisors using its social media presences. And radiology is finally starting to publish on the subject as well: an upcoming JACR piece will analyze how Twitter was used at last year's RSNA conference to enhance sessions and deepen attendee engagement.

As Fishman highlighted, if health care entities that don't have patient awareness issues are using social media, not only is there no excuse for radiology lagging behind, it's actually imperative the specialty join in and catch up. Otherwise, radiology risks becoming invisible in yet another dimension of patient interaction. "Social media is an opportunity for radiologists to share with patients who we are," he said.

Fishman can be found on Twitter under the handle @ctisus. ImagingBiz tweets as @imagingbiz, and RSNA 2013 is being documented live via the hashtag #RSNA13.