Social Media Primer

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Social Media: An SGO Primer

The use of social media (SM) has skyrocketed over the last decade. Patients use it to obtain information about their diagnosis and to connect with others who have the same disease. For physicians, there are several potential benefits to having a social media presence, including:

• Easily accessing hot topics and breaking news in your field
• Staying connected with peers/patients and promoting events
• Filtering information provided to the general public

While social media can be a very powerful tool both professionally and personally, it is important to understand some of the potential drawbacks as well. Please refer to SGO’s social media policy for more details. Most institutions and employers also have established their own policies and you should reach out to yours to understand them prior to introducing your professional persona through SM. Some hospitals and universities even have classes you can attend to help you get started.

Social Media Common Sense Rules

Some of the basic rules of social media are as follows:

1. Social media should not interfere with job responsibilities; do not use institutional resources and work hours for personal participation in SM.
2. Protected Health Information (PHI) should not be posted online (including pictures); most SM outlets are not encrypted and therefore such information could be distributed to a much larger audience unintentionally.
3. Any information that is posted should be considered at least potentially permanent. Even though you can delete a post, it can usually still be accessed and found by skilled professionals (e.g., HR departments); many large institutions have SM groups that routinely monitor social media sites and posts to keep track of the activities of their employees.
4. Many institutions have policies about using social media to recruit individual patients to clinical trials. There also may be limitations about sharing unpublished research findings, especially soon-to-be published journal articles or embargoed abstracts.
5. Your institution may have a specific policy about not using social media to solicit fundraising.
6. Do not give specific medical advice via social media.
7. For SM accounts related to your position as a health care professional, you will need to include a disclaimer that all opinions are yours and do not represent the institution/organization where you are employed. Such an account should not include any institutional or organizational branding.
8. Ideally, physicians who wish to be active on social media should have separate professional and personal accounts.
9. Be cautious about allowing others to post on your behalf, or allowing one-off applications to have access to your accounts.


Establishing an SM account is relatively easy. Be sure to keep track of the user names and passwords you use, and be prepared to change your password if your email or server becomes compromised. A social media account is only as effective as it is active, so here are some tips on regular maintenance:

• Link to multiple different SM outlets and other websites to increase your overall SM presence and followers
• Write posts relatively frequently (ideally you should post daily) but space out the timing of your posts
• Be sure to monitor your accounts frequently for inappropriate comments that need to be removed and reply promptly to specific inquiries.


Social media enables users to create online communities to share information, ideas, and personal messages. Such information might come in the form of blogs, discussion boards, wikis, videos, podcasts, mobile applications, and file sharing sites. Some of the most popular social networks are described below. As a rule, health care providers should not post any patient information that would violate HIPAA.

Twitter (
Twitter is a social networking service that allows users to read and send short 140-character messages called “tweets.” Tweets often include “hashtags” (#) which is a type of label that makes it easier to find a specific theme (e.g., #SGOMtg, #ovariancancer). The SGO Social Media Committee has created a list of helpful health care hashtags that you can reference. Twitter is one of the most frequently visited websites and has more than 500 million users. To use Twitter you create an account and then identify people (such as other SGO members) and organizations (health care journals, institutions, news agencies) and meetings that you want to follow. There is even a monthly “Tweetchat” (#GYNCSM) dedicated to patients and physicians discussing gynecologic cancers. If you are a Twitter novice, reach out to SGO social media work group members for help.

Facebook (
Facebook is a social networking website that enables individuals to connect with friends, family and colleagues. Although it was originally designed for college students, it is now accessible to anyone over the age of 13. It is often utilized to share photos and see updates and posts from individuals in your network. Some patients and NGOs have established support groups and use Facebook for fundraising or to promote events.

LinkedIn (
LinkedIn is a business-oriented social networking website that allows workers and employers to connect in a virtual professional relationship. The website’s mission is to “connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful.” It is great for discovering new career opportunities and reconnecting with colleagues and classmates. It is an online avenue for keeping the social media world abreast of your professional accomplishments and is best reserved for posts related to your career.

Doximity (
Doximity is a professional networking tool designed exclusively for health care professionals. Doximity is unique from other social media websites in that communications using Doximity are HIPAA compliant and can be utilized to discuss patient care with physician-to-physician messaging. Currently 60% of US physicians are enrolled on Doximity.

YouTube (
YouTube is the world’s most popular video sharing site. YouTube users with a free account can upload individual videos up to 15 minutes in duration. Very popular videos with millions of shares and views are described as having “gone viral,” but that is usually due to novelty of the content. SGO has its own YouTube channel for videos produced by the Society, and most large institutions have a dedicated YouTube channel as well.

Instagram is a photo sharing app for mobile devices, which can be shared instantly on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr or as a personal message. SGO primarily reserves the use of Instagram for the Annual Meeting, and since PHI such as patient photos should not be shared on Instagram, it is unlikely that you would be using Instagram regularly in a work situation.