New association ‘overdue’ to support health care providers on social media
In this guest commentary, Austin Chiang, MD, MPH, director of the endoscopic bariatric program and chief medical social media officer at Jefferson Health in Philadelphia, discusses his latest role as President and founding member of the newly established Association for Healthcare Social Media. Chiang shares the ongoing vision for the organization in addition to the reason for its conception and goals.
The Association for Healthcare Social Media (AHSM) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that aims to reinvent and accelerate the spread of health care information “while employing social media as an educational tool, developing best practices of social media use in health care through evidence-based methods, advocating for the preservation of integrity of online medical information, and inspiring others to use social media as a vital tool.”
A call to action
Today, we have come to a time where there is an increased focus on health misinformation along with the potential for social media to truly impact public health. A couple months ago, we started a hashtag campaign on Instagram called, #VerifyHealthcare, sparked by the rise of misinformation and influencers even within health care.
With the influencer phenomenon, there are a lot of other concerns, not just misrepresentation, but other pitfalls whether it’s professionalism issues weighing (or not weighing) what is appropriate to post, HIPAA concerns or even sponsored content issues, which is definitely a new phenomenon in health care social media. There’s a need for guidance on how to disclose conflicts of interest, industry relationships and how to cite medical literature so that patients and the general public can easily digest it.
#VerifyHealthcare focused on encouraging those with decent followings to disclose their training and experience. Additionally, it encouraged their followers to be mindful of who they are trusting. To double- and triple-check the credentials of those they trusted online.
We saw how this hashtag resonated with a lot of people – health professionals and patients alike – and we felt the need to take this a step further. That’s when the idea of creating the Association for Healthcare Social Media (AHSM) arose.
We are the first professional society for health care social media use. There are other organizations focused on health communications professionals or media professionals, but not for those of us who are practicing medicine, dentistry or nursing and are now using social media to educate others or to build our practices. While Facebook groups or online groups do exist, they’re less formal. AHSM holds 501(c)(3) designation as a formal non-profit group and offers more transparency. This was overdue. There needs to be a more organized effort and the designation is the first step to move from informal conversations on an individual level to a concerted force in public health to engage more effectively with other organizations and institutions.
All of us felt that no matter our purpose for using social media, it has a public health impact and to have the positive impact we want to see, we need to come together.
The 15 of us who started this were already heavy social media users, often on Instagram, but also Twitter, YouTube and other platforms. We started with #VerifyHhealthcare and became the founding members for AHSM.
Specialties represented on our board of directors include ophthalmology, OB/GYN, facial plastic surgery, dermatology, pediatrics, orthopedic surgery, neurosurgery, GI, pulmonary medicine, critical care and more. Our advisory council has MD doctors, DO representation, nurse practitioners, a psychologist and also the New Jersey health commissioner. We want to continue to diversify and aim to represent the breadth of medicine.
It’s important for everyone to be involved because if you are online talking about health in any way, shape or form, then you should really be aware of how to safely and properly do so.
It’s interesting how the landscape of social media has changed. In the past, it was a casual forum or creative outlet. Increasingly, many have used it in other productive ways, whether it’s education, discussion or business. We wanted to highlight all of that, but ensure that there’s no danger to health professionals’ careers or patient health.
There’s been a lot of media attention on various aspects of health and social media, whether it be health misinformation or this influencer phenomenon where even physicians have been accused of hiding paid vacations or rewards for promoting certain products in their social media.
Conflicts of interest and industry relationships are not new to medicine, but the way it’s intersecting with social media is new. In this day and age, with the rise of fashion influencers, fitness influencers, etc., health influencers have also arisen. At the end of the day, what impact does this have on the general public and public health? We want to investigate and address this.
Additionally, we observed students, health professionals or medicine-adjacent individuals who said that they were physicians or other health professionals but did not have the training to support that. This was concerning given some of their large social media followings.
The AHSM mission
Social media has far more benefits than most people, especially health professionals, often perceive but with that, also many pitfalls than previously imagined. Because our reputations and our identities are so digital and vulnerable to missteps, it’s important to inform ourselves on how we navigate all of this but we also want to help people understand its benefits. We need more health professional champions to serve as an examples of how social media can elevate one’s career, serve as a networking device, and create a niche in one’s field.
There are so many different ways that social media can be used and the diversity of our board of directors demonstrates the full spectrum – whether it’s using one platform to promote another, to create businesses or to create an organization.
Those of us that founded AHSM met on social media. I couldn’t think of a better example or a better way for a group of 15 individuals spread across specialties and all over the country to come together and within 3 months, incorporate a new organization, get 501(c)(3) designation and do all of this. It’s a testament to the power of social media.
Social media is pervasive now for every field and every specialty.
At this point, the AHSM has more than 400 paying members. This is not just for gastroenterology where I practice. This is not just for doctors. This society and this movement are for everyone in the health care field. There may be unique considerations for nurses, optometrists, physician assistants or other health care roles, so we want to encourage those folks to join and contribute.
How to join
If you look into us now, we have a few best practices for social media laid out, but we’re going to keep developing, editing and evolving them. All of this can be found on our website, ahsm.org.
It’s still a work in progress, we recognize that, but we can’t build a professional society overnight. We have early adopter rates until mid-June.
There has been a lot of interest from patients as well as people not working directly in health care, but adjacent to it such as care managers or care navigators for insurance companies. I think it’s important for them as well as patients and patient advocates to be involved, but we are concentrating on physicians and other health care providers for now. There is an open access section for patients on the site.
Right now, there is a disconnect. There isn’t much incentive for health professionals to get online and share health knowledge about what they do. The currency today is still academic journal publications, which is usually not where the general public receives their health knowledge. We aim to shift that, ever so slightly.
What AHSM needs is people who are medically trained, to talk about what they do on social media platforms, but it’s hard to get people to do something when there’s no obvious reward.
We want other physicians to understand this is not just a social group. We are good at doing this and we want to share and train others on a professional level.
At this time, we’re solidifying our structure and curating content. We are planning a symposium scheduled for the first weekend in November. It will be our first event bringing everyone together, as a precursor to a bigger conference down the road. We want to host annual events just like any other medical organization and bring in key speakers to discuss various aspects of what they do on social media.
AHSM will stay abreast of the latest in health care social media. There are going to be new platforms for social media in the future and what we are doing now will evolve and change with the ebb and flow of social media. The goal is to capture all existing platforms because we don’t know which ones will stick around or change. We’re not talking about social media in terms of only Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, but also YouTube and podcasting as growing forums. We also invite med students and people in training, nursing students, etc., because they’re likely to be at the front lines when it comes to what’s newest in the social media world.
At the end of the day it’s not for everyone. But especially for the younger generation, it has an impact and it has the potential to really help your business or practice.
We envision AHSM as a medical organization, like the American College of Cardiology or American Gastroenterological Association. We want to really legitimize what we’re doing and help academic institutions, other professional societies and industry partners to understand the value of social media contributions and see it as a valuable public health tool that deserves more recognition.
Disclosure: Chiang is the chief medical social media officer for Jefferson Health in Philadelphia.