January 30, 2018
6 min read

#SoMe for the Busy Physician

Growing base of physicians using social media opens door for connection, collaboration and education.

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Seven in 10 Americans are using social media today to connect with one another. From 2005 to 2016, the number of Americans using social media platforms to engage, learn, read the news and connect increased to more than two-thirds of the population. Social media usage rose in all age groups in the past decade, but, interestingly, it has been increasing in the population aged 65 years and older. This is relevant to the cardiology community, since the majority of patients with CVD are older.

Sheila Sahni

We are two people in this large group worldwide who use social media — Twitter, in particular — on a regular basis. For the busy physician, it can be difficult to stay on top of relevant news for you and your patients or to find time to network. Enter Twitter, a community-engaging platform by which you can customize your feed to see only the news you want to see, generate conversation surrounding your clinical interests, follow conferences around the world remotely, share your expertise with your peers, and learn tips and tricks from others.

M. Chadi Alraies

Since both joining Twitter, we have watched the number of our cardiology colleagues as well as experts in the field rise in recent years and engagement has been strong. This is very exciting because what we are reading on Twitter can only be as good as the content that is being generated. Given the fast-pace of this digital social media platform, it is important that we have thoughtful, clinically accurate evidence based discussions. This is why we continue to encourage more cardiologists especially those who are involved in clinical practice, basic science, clinical trials and journal editing to become involved on social media.

The Power of Social Media

We met at the Cardiovascular Research Technologies meeting in 2016 in Washington, D.C., upon discovering a shared passion for social media and digital outreach. We were tweeting from that event, sharing news and lectures, and engaging with other attendees. This is when we also began using the #CRT2016 hashtag and started to build an audience at that meeting around this hashtag. By simply following the official hashtag during a national medical meeting, attendees could learn the science at a rapid, almost instantaneous pace. The two of us collaborated on this shared interest and evolved the idea of bringing social engagement to the interventional community.

The main question is: How are doctors using Twitter? Twitter is transforming the physician community into a learning portal for educating, spreading research and new ideas, sharing information that is being disseminated at scientific meetings, and for advocacy and networking.


Current statistics show that about three-quarters of digital media is being accessed by a smartphone. Health information accounts for 50% of what consumers are using the digital space for. Health information is, literally, at everyone’s fingertips.

There are not yet robust data on how often cardiologists, or physicians in general, are joining social media or how often they are using it. In one survey of 360 physicians, 83% mentioned using a web base to promote their practice, 63% to communicate online and write prescription e-scripts and 85% to follow their reviews and what people are saying about their practice. But when it comes to social media, the view is different: About half of physicians report using Facebook, mostly for personal reasons, and just 21% use Twitter. We would argue that the engagement on Twitter in cardiology has been quite impressive; more than 200 cardiologists have been identified as using Twitter, by way of a Twitter poll.

Health-related Social Engagement

Some physicians have expressed hesitation at joining and being active on social media. “Don’t lie, don’t cry, don’t cheat, don’t delete, don’t steal, don’t reveal.” This is the 12-word Social Media Policy by Farris Timimi, MD, at Mayo Clinic which summarizes the main “rules” for physicians who engage in social media.

Source: Sheila Sahni, MD, and M. Chadi Alraies, MD

Here are several tips to ease that hesitation and open the door for the positive aspects of social media engagement.

Twitter is limited to 280 characters per tweet. In those 280 characters, you might summarize an interesting PCI case you saw at a meeting or share a photo of a cath lab hack. Remember to maintain professionalism at all times. Your social engagement should reflect the same level of conduct you bring to your professional life. Expect every message on social media to be read aloud in the court of law or by your patient; if it doesn’t align with your professional behavior in the workplace, don’t post it. This is almost like a medical record; it’s going to represent you for the rest of your career. Importantly, on Twitter, you cannot edit your tweets. You can delete your tweet, but you cannot make changes to it once it has been posted. Always carefully consider what you are posting before you click the “tweet” button. Be cautious, neutral and evidence-based in what you tweet. If you’re new to social media, start slow.


Just as we do in patient care, remember to protect HIPAA at all times and never identify a patient. For example, if you want to share a photo of an angiogram or an echocardiogram to discuss an interesting case, ensure that the image is anonymous and the names, age and all personal information are blinded or you have taken a clean shot of the image. Also, ask for permission. This is one of the main fears we hear from physicians on social media. Ask your media or marketing department about your institution’s social media policy.

Why You Should Engage; How to Get Started

There are a number of reasons why the cardiology community should be engaged in social media and what it can do for you in multiple areas of one’s career. Major medical societies have social media accounts; in the realm of intervention, this includes the Society for Cardiovascular and Angiography Interventions, the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association, among others. Similarly, many leaders in the field are on social media to increase awareness, to promote their expertise, to come up with new research or discuss research questions, or even discuss a new app that can be used to improve patient care. Further, we use social media mainly to follow journals, articles, to stay up-to-date and when they use a hashtag we can track the papers of our interest. Social media presents an opportunity to see everything of interest at your fingertips in digital form. You can retweet it, reply to a poster, forward it, share with others, ask questions to generate discussion: What do you think of this study? How will this change your practice?

So, what are the benefits of social media for the busy physician?

  1. You’re going to learn a lot and will find the news relevant to you and your patient care.
  2. You have an opportunity to educate others — friends, peers, fellows, residents, colleagues, and so on.
  3. Advocacy. Social media is a huge platform you can use to make your voice heard. Promote an organization or initiative you are passionate about. Build your personal brand as a physician known for your expertise. Have a bio and photo that is consistent across all social media platforms — for example, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. It’s important to focus yourself to a certain message.
Source: Sheila Sahni, MD, and M. Chadi Alraies, MD


No discussion of social media can really be completed without discussing the power of the hashtag. A hashtag links to a database of that subject matter in the Twittersphere, but it’s also used on other social media platforms.

To give you an idea, let’s look at #CTO (chronic total occlusion). You can use that hashtag to search and see all the new CTO information that is being tweeted about and you can decide what you’re going to keep, retweet, like or quote about. You may even come across a tip from someone who is advanced in their CTO career and may learn something about a new technique that you can then use yourself or generate a discussion around.

Similarly, #RadialFirst is a hashtag that was launched in January 2017 advocating for radial access practice in the field of interventional cardiology. The hashtag was adopted quickly by leaders in the field and used at large scale to share cases, images, discussions and even journal clubs. #RadialFirst truly represents the perfect example of the use of social media to advocate for a best-practice technique.

There are a number of other relevant hashtags in the interventional space that are currently popular on Twitter (see Graphic). Additionally, most national meetings and societies feature official hashtags to follow, whether you are attending a conference or following the conference virtually from home.

Generate Conversation

Social media provides us the opportunity to connect with our colleagues at all levels and all over the world. But social media is not without its caveats: It’s important to have regulators. Having senior-level practicing physicians in different arenas — academic, clinical and so on — to be on Twitter and help control the dissemination of knowledge and increase awareness and adjudicate is vital.

As fellows and early-career physicians, we are engaging at a different level, and it’s very much about awareness, learning, asking questions, stimulating our minds and seeing things that we maybe wouldn’t see at our institutions. We want to follow great resources.

Imagine if we could engage more in all domains in this media space, where we could have better access and better care for our patients and the cardiology community.

Disclosures: Alraies and Sahni report no relevant financial disclosures.