The Intersection of Social Media with Medical Students and Residents

The impact of social media on our current society is unmistakable.   This extends of course to the health care field as well, with a majority of adults seeking information about health care online and through social media venues.  Which brings me to how to consider trainees.  The overwhelming majority of medical students and residents are younger than their teachers, and are plugged in more than any previous generation.  They “live and breathe” in the world of social networking everyday.
Some medical educators have recommended for students to avoid involvement in social media.  “The risks are too great” is what is often said, citing examples of unprofessional behavior by trainees.  Certainly there are instances when students or residents acted in an unprofessional manner with their use of social media. 
But what about the positives?  What about opportunities to learn and have social media and medical education go hand in hand?  What about opportunities to help patients with the use of social media? 
Social media “policies” by academic medical centers or medical schools point out the “don’t do this, don’t do that”, but let’s also focus on what the trainees CAN do.  Let’s consider how we can IMPROVE our current health care system and ultimately the care of patients with innovative uses of social media and social networking, such as this amazing site from Webicina.
I really like this “policy” explanation by the Canadian Medical Association, which has a positive outlook on the use of social media for physicians. A wonderful article by a colleague of mine at the Indiana University School of Medicine, Dr. Gabe Bosslet, highlights both the positives and the potential negative ramifications from social media use by medical students (Dr. Bosslet also was instrumental in writing our medical school’s Social Media guidelines).
What’s your take?  Should we recommend trainees avoid the use of social media, fearing repercussions, or should we embrace these new technologies and try to work with (and learn from) trainees, in whom social networking is already playing a major role?


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