Social media and social networking refer to the practice of using “web-based and mobile based technologies which are used to turn communication into interactive dialogue among organizations, communities, and individuals.” Identifying the precise origins of social media in medicine are challenging, but there is no doubt that the recent explosion in popularity of platforms such as MySpace (2003), Facebook (2004), and Twitter (2006) created the idea of social networking as a mainstream avenue for communication and data gathering. As a result, physicians recognized that the ability for social platforms to communicate with a broad network of “friends” offered the potential to share knowledge, advertise one’s services, and connect with patients on a semi-personal level.
Of course, the integration of social media into practice comes with a cost in the form of privacy, time commitment, and one’s digital reputation. Yet, because social media has become an increasingly relevant aspect of daily life for professionals, orthopaedic surgeons should be familiar with the current state of social networking technology, its benefits, and its limitations.
The current most popular social media platforms used by orthopaedic surgeons to communicate with the general public include Twitter and Facebook. Twitter is organized in a way that allows users to “follow” particular individuals or accounts they find interesting, but posts (“tweets”) are limited to a maximum length of 140 characters. As a result, Twitter has become an outlet for current announcement posts that frequently offer brief tips or factual information followed by hyperlinks to full articles, blog posts, or news reports. A number of professional orthopaedic organizations have established active Twitter accounts for disseminating information to patients as well as providers, and include: @AAOS1, @AOSurgery, @OrthopaedicsOne, @ClinOrthop, @HandSociety, @JBJS, @JBJSBr, just to name a few.
In contrast, Facebook has become popular for their ability to allow friends to create social networks and share a great amount of personal information about one’s preferences, photos, and interests. In addition, Facebook supports businesses through the creation of business “pages” where administrators can advertise promotions, connect with potential customers, and accumulate “likes” from the general public. While this form of business marketing is prevalent among young adults and their respective interests, this has not become popular among medical providers.
In addition to social networks focused on the general public, a number of physician-specific and orthopaedic-specific social networks have been developed. For physicians in particular, sites such as sermo.com, doximity.com, practicefusion.com, and quantiamd.com all advertise private physician communities to facilitate discussion and collaboration. However, some of these sites have come under scrutiny and criticism by physicians based on their marketing tactics and motivations. For example, the largest physician social network, sermo.com, does not allow advertisements on the site but rather generates income by selling the comments of their physician communities to financial institutions, health care organizations, and government bodies (sermo.com’s business model), calling to question how honest physicians can truly be even in a physician-specific community.
Orthopaedic surgeon-specific social networks have also been created. The most popular is www.Orthomind.com, a practice management site for orthopaedic surgeons. From their website, “OrthoMind is a Global Practice Network created by orthopaedic surgeons for orthopaedic surgeons. The OrthoMind solution provides a customized knowledge distribution platform where orthopaedic surgeons can privately collaborate and rapidly share information. Learning opportunities keep orthopaedic surgeons engaged with emerging trends in the profession and improve their ability to primarily focus on enhancing patient care. This is all done in an ethical and HIPAA compliant manner. Orthopaedic surgeons will be able to access tools and resources in the site which will allow them to save time and money in their practices as well as earn increased revenue in their usual course of business. The only people who can access OrthoMind are validated orthopaedic surgeons or OrthoMind employees.” The website consists of specialized networks, various communities, discussion forums, individual posts, breaking news, challenging cases, and other ways to communicate and share with colleagues.
Lastly, various orthopaedic-related websites have social-networking characteristics. These include popular sites such as Orthogate (www.orthogate.org), OrthopaedicsOne (www.orthopaedicsone.com), and OrthoBullets (www.orthobullets.com), all of which incorporate the ability to directly message other colleagues on the site as a secondary feature that complements their primary purpose (message boards, reference information, or test preparation, respectively).
Orthopaedic surgeons should be aware of the potential advantages of social media, but must also be cognizant of their limitations. KevinMD, a prominent physician blogger, states that “There is never any anonymity on the web. Doctors should always be careful what they write — even when cloaked behind a pseudonym or behind closed doors on physician-only discussion boards.” Thus, while the social network has the potential to enhance patient and professional contacts and communication, physicians should always consider their words to be part of the public dialogue. This directly applies to one’s reputation, personal beliefs, as well as HIPAA and privacy concerns.