When discussing social media utility in the workplace, it’s common for people to use people such as doctors as examples of those who simply have no time nor need for social media. It cropped up again a few years ago when I wrote a post discussing whether doctors should befriend their patients on social media.
It was based on some research into the social media habits of those in the medical profession. That study focused primarily on the superficial side of things, but a new study by John Hopkins University looks at some slightly more useful benefits of doctors using social media at work.
The study revealed that one in four American doctors are using social media on a daily basis. They’re not using it for casual purposes though, but rather to scan or explore medical information, with another 14% contributing to the body of information already on social media.
Sixty-one percent of the doctors said they use social media once a week or more to look for information, and 46 percent said they contribute new information once a week or more, according to the study, which appeared recently in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.
The importance of peer communities
The report then went on to provide some fascinating insight into usage across specialisms. For instance oncologists were more likely to use social media to keep up to date with the latest innovations. Primary-care doctors on the other hand were found to use social media more to keep in touch with and learn from their peers.
The majority of this interaction was taking place on peer communities rather than on the public social media. Just 7% of physicians were found to be using Twitter for instance. It underlines the importance of not dismissing social media en masse.
“What did surprise us was the heavy use of online physician-only communities,” said Robert Millar, a researcher on the project. “It’s possible that many physicians feel more comfortable with that type of social media instead of a more public space like Twitter or Facebook.”
The findings mimic those in other professions. Last year for instance it emerged that professionals spend around 40% of their time online in peer communities. Far from being a waste of time or the home of the banal, most interactions on these communities was found to be educational.
Nearly 60 percent of the physicians in the John Hopkins study said social media is beneficial, engaging and a good way to keep current on high-quality information. They also said social media helps them care for patients more efficiently and improves the quality of care they provide.
It’s worth pointing out that the study was conducted 18 months ago, so it’s quite likely that social media usage via peer communities has risen in the interim. It just goes to show though that social tools can benefit even the most intense professions if they are targeted and focused enough to allow participants to derive real benefits quickly.