Providers and Misinformation on Social Media

Providers and Misinformation on Social Media
November 3, 2022
Loris Nikolov

Social media enables near unrestricted distribution and access of information and knowledge. Combining this with its massive popularity in contemporary society has led social media to become a principal medium for public access to health information. Indeed, studies have indicated that up to 90% of adults in the US search for health information on social media platforms [1]. 

Providers Desire to Address Misinformation

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic social media finds itself at the heart of medical misinformation. Combatting the misinformation epidemic necessitates that healthcare professionals engage with the public on these platforms through factual, evidence-based conversations. Health experts desire to do so, with the majority being personally and professionally motivated to correct health misinformation on social media [2].

Providers and Social Media 

Unfortunately, while social media presence among physicians is consistent with that of the general population, their level of activity is very low, with approximately 90% of physicians never posting [3]. So, why are health experts shying away from using social media?

Harassment and abuse

A recent survey concluded that 1 in 4 participating physicians reported being harassed or attacked on social media [4]. CMA (Canadian Medical Association) President Dr. Katharine Smart puts it best: “During the pandemic, health workers have shared scientific knowledge, advanced evidence-based positions, and advocated for the public’s health and wellness on social media. We should be celebrating these voices, but instead, they are at risk of being silenced by harmful, hateful and bullying behavior.” [5].

Concerns over professionalism

Another deterrent for physicians is the risk of posting content that may damage their or their institution’s reputations. Providers worry that their personal social media activity such as the photos they post, the comments they make, and the content that they “like’ or “react” to may be construed as inappropriate. Furthermore, they fear the backlash or abuse they may face over expression of their personal opinions on certain topics [6].

Professional boundaries and HIPAA

Traditional social media functionalities create an opportunity for the violation of the patient-provider boundary. Patients may extend “friend requests'' to their providers, or attempt to interact with them outside of a professional context, which is ill-advised by providers and discouraged by organizational policies. Providers may also violate a patient’s privacy by accessing inappropriate personal information on their profiles. Providers fear that any such infraction could put them in breach of HIPAA and state privacy laws, exposing them or their institution to litigation [7]. 

The Tell Health Solution

“Rather than communicating on social media channels, providers should consider setting up a website to be used for sharing posts regarding medical events or services”, says Mike Austin of the Patient Empowerment Network [6]. Tell Health is this and much more; a social media platform where people engage with top verified health experts who share their knowledge for the benefit of everyone, everywhere. Tell Health is a safe space where only verified healthcare providers create posts and moderate comments. People from every community can access and interact with high quality, trustworthy health information. 

To find out more, visit https://www.tell.health/.

References

  1. M. Bishop, "Healthcare Social Media for Consumer Informatics," in Consumer Informatics and Digital Health, Jacksonville, Springer, Cham, 2019, pp. 61-86.
  2. J. R. Bautista, Y. Zhang and J. Gwizdka, "US Physicians’ and Nurses’ Motivations, Barriers, and Recommendations for Correcting Health Misinformation on Social Media: Qualitative Interview Study," JMIR Public Health and Surveillance, vol. 7, no. 9, 2021.
  3. I. Hameed, C. T. Oakley, A. Ahmed, N. Naeem, B. Robinson, N. F. Hameed and M. Gaudino, "Analysis of Physician Use of Social Media," Jama Network Open, vol. 4, no. 7, 2021.
  4. T. R. Pendergrast, S. Jain, N. S. Trueger, M. Gottlieb, N. C. Woitowich and V. M. Arora, "Prevalence of Personal Attacks and Sexual Harrasment of Physicians on Social Media," Jama Network Open, vol. 181, no. 4, 2021.
  5. Canadian Medical Association, "CMA says it’s time for action: Federal government and online platforms need to act now to stop attacks on health workers," 18 November 2021. [Online]. Available: https://www.cma.ca/news-releases-and-statements/cma-says-its-time-action-federal-government-and-online-platforms-need
  6. M. Austin, "Health Care and Social Media: Importance of Facing Their Challenges," 18 December 2019. [Online]. Available: https://powerfulpatients.org/2019/12/18/health-care-and-social-media-importance-of-facing-their-challenges
  7. C. L. Ventola, "Social Media and Health Care Professionals: Benefits, Risks, and Best Practices," Pharmacy and Therapeutics, vol. 39, no. 7, pp. 491-499, 2014.