More than half of the world’s population now uses the Internet.1 Many of these users access social media sites on a regular basis. Social media can be classified in a plethora of ways to reflect the diverse range of social media platforms, such as collaborative projects (eg, Wikipedia), content communities (eg, YouTube), and social networking sites (eg, Facebook).2 A recent Pew Research Center survey of US adults reports that social media use in early 2018 was characterized by a combination of “long-standing trends and newly emerging narratives”3; 73% of US adults reported using YouTube and 68% reported using Facebook. At the same time, younger Americans (especially those aged 18 to 24 years) are embracing a variety of platforms (eg, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter) and using them frequently.3
Psychiatrists are increasingly using social media to educate the general public, existing patients, and potential patients about various conditions. With their many applications, social media platforms are useful for professional networking, patient and provider education, research collaboration, personal and professional support, and academic dialogues. Social media adds a new dimension to health care because it offers a medium for physicians and patients to communicate about medical issues with the potential to improve health outcomes.
Benefits of using social media in private practice
Using social media in private practice has many benefits. It provides avenues for us to market ourselves and our services. The most popular social media sites for physicians are those where we can participate in online communities, listen to experts in their fields, read news articles, network, and communicate with colleagues regarding patient issues. These sites allow us to acquire and read relevant information related to our patients and practice. Social media allows us to engage with other psychiatrists and mental health professionals by commenting on posts and participating in group discussions or online chats. By identifying and sharing useful information or links with followers or other members of an online community, these interactions can increase the acquisition of salient information.
We can create blogs, forums, videos, and information-sharing websites that provide information to the general public, patients, and other mental health professionals on mental illness, treatments available, and wellness; these efforts can help reduce stigma associated with mental illness and promote psychiatry. Our use of social media can expand access to individuals who may not easily access health information via traditional methods. Social media can provide peer, social, and emotional support for patients, the general public, and other mental health providers. It can allow the general public to discuss sensitive topics and complex information with us and provide opportunities for us to provide online consultations.
Social media provides communication in real time and is inexpensive, although potentially time consuming. We can quickly monitor public response to mental health issues, identify misinformation of mental health information, and disseminate pertinent mental health information to targeted communities. We can compile data about patient experiences from blogs, collect data from patients, and gather opinions regarding our performance (eg, via customer satisfaction surveys). We can use social media to disseminate personalized messages immediately.
Dr Joshi is Associate Professor of Clinical Psychiatry and Associate Director, Forensic Psychiatry Fellowship, Department of Neuropsychiatry and Behavioral Science, University of South Carolina School of Medicine, Columbia, SC; Dr Gehle is Chief Psychologist, South Carolina Department of Mental Health, Columbia, SC.
The authors report no conflicts of interest concerning the subject matter of this article.
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