Social Media in Practice

Social Media in Practice

September 06, 2019
4 min read

Q&A: Using social media to promote infectious disease research

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Kelly Cawcutt, MD, MS
Kelly Cawcutt

Social media provides a quick and easy way to communicate and disseminate information.

In Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology, researchers reviewed the use of social media platforms to increase the reach of critical research on infection prevention, hospital epidemiology and antimicrobial stewardship.

Infectious Disease News spoke with Kelly Cawcutt, MD, MS, assistant professor in the divisions of infectious diseases and pulmonary and critical care medicine, associate director of infection prevention and epidemiology and co-director of digital innovation and social media strategy for the division of infectious diseases at University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska, about the power of social media and how it can be used to inform practice. – by Marley Ghizzone

Q: What prompted the review?

A: This was an invited review for Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology. Given that the concepts of infection prevention and antimicrobial stewardship are ingrained in all areas of medicine, a targeted review focusing on the potential use of social media was needed. My co-authors and I carry a broad, combined level of expertise in social media through personal and professional use, prior peer-reviewed publications and as educators on social media in medicine, thus carried the expertise within infectious diseases, infection control, antimicrobial stewardship and the use and impact of social media today.

There has been increasing attention, awareness and research into how social media can be leveraged in academic medicine, including for dissemination of research and its resultant impact on bibliometrics (link), professional networking, education and advocacy, to name a few. Just as the public has become increasingly engaging online, so has the medical community; thus we need to understand how social media is used, its pervasive and profound impact and how to harness its power to improve medicine. We hoped to achieve a starting point for that understanding with this review.

Q: How can disseminating research on social media help ID clinicians?

A: There are several ways that disseminating research on social media can help infectious diseases clinicians. From an individual perspective, sharing research on social media highlights expertise in a content area to a broader audience than normally achieved through traditional journal circulation. Emerging — or recognized — regional and national expertise is a frequent requirement for promotion at many institutions. Also, sharing of research publications on social media has been associated with increased alternative and conventional bibliometrics, which is another criterion related to promotion.


On the individual level, there is also substantial opportunity to read shared research for personal education and practice improvement. Research shared on social media becomes a crowd-sourcing opportunity to see what articles your colleagues are reading but also to see what articles are trending from journals you may not routinely read. Access to these articles is available via social media on phones, tablets and desktops, enabling clinicians to read whenever or wherever they can.

Altruistically, by sharing research on social media, infectious diseases clinicians can educate and advocate to improve patient care in a larger and more expeditious fashion. For instance, in an era of increasing multidrug-resistant bacteria, best practices within infection prevention are critical to prevent spread of these infections, and antimicrobial stewardship principles of minimizing inappropriate use of antibiotics is paramount to diminish further emergence of these bacteria. This research is important to share with our colleagues outside of infectious diseases, but also with the public.

Q: Which social media platforms are best for this?

A: With multiple social media platforms, this is a great question. Each platform has a different method of sharing content and brings a different audience. For instance, although Facebook is the most used platform in the world, the professional medical community may be more engaged on Twitter. In considering any social media platforms, the first question to ask is which audience do you want to engage with or reach? What is your mission for using social media? If you are trying to reach the general public to share evidence on the value of influenza vaccination, you may want to consider Facebook. If you want to share research and network with other professional colleagues, Twitter may be a better choice. If you are searching for information about new positions or jobs, you may be looking at LinkedIn.

Q: Should every journal have its own social media accounts?

A: If we take into account the above-mentioned discussion on the value of disseminating research on social media, yes, I think there is a role for journals to have their own accounts to share research, visual abstracts, expert (or author) commentary via live feed or video, and other opportunities to again reach both their readership and a broader audience with key content. However, there are implications of liberalizing content for journals that need to be considered. These implications include ensuring links back to the main journal to access articles, avoiding negative financial implications if full texts are shared and determining whether all or only featured articles are shared.

Q: Does social media have the power to change medical practice?

A: Yes, I truly believe it does have the power to change medical practice, but I am biased in this area as an early adopter of social media (link).

Social media and instant online access are ever-present in our daily lives. We go online routinely for information, news, entertainment, education and social connection with family, friends and beyond. Social media can accelerate the sharing of best practices for clinicians; it is a platform for advocacy and education for public health and a conduit for professional development and promotion. If we effectively harness this power, I absolutely believe we can lead positive changes in medical practice.


Cawcutt KA, et al. Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol. 2019;doi:10.1017/ice.2019.231.

Disclosures: Cawcutt reports no relevant financial disclosures. Please see the study for all other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.

Note: Cawcutt tweets under the handle @KellyCawcuttMD . Her co-authors were Jasmine Marcelin, MD (@DrJRMarcelin) and Julie K. Silver, MD (@JulieSilverMD). Infectious Disease News tweets under the handle @InfectDisNews.