A New York medical college has received a two-year grant to study how aspiring physicians use social media and what ethical issues it creates with patients. It’s the latest milestone in social media’s conquest of the medical profession.
Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University was one of four medical schools awarded a two-year $50,000 grant as part of Institute of Medicine as a Profession 2012 Education and Training to Professionalism Initiative. The focus will be on the ethical issues and benefits at the heart of social media, hinted at by the grant’s title: “Social Media and Medical Professionalism: Perfect Match or Perfect Storm?”
The first order of business for the grant will be to close the generation gap to ensure older faculty are familiar with the terminology, social media sites and what the fuss is about. Dr. Elizabeth Kitsis, the director of the medical school’s bioethics program, said “the next generation of doctors needs to understand how social media can be a double-edged sword.” She added that although it can provide patients with personalized medical education, it’s critical to keep privacy and confidentiality issues front of mind. Kitsis is also principal investigator for the grant.
As part of the grant, medical students and faculty will learn how to use social media “appropriately and effectively,” according to a statement published by the university.
First-year medical students will look at their “social media footprints,” and review whether any online postings could be perceived as unprofessional, from photos to language. Second-year students will also do this and highlight changes in their social media presence, according to the statement. First- and second-year students will also learn how to respond to possible social networking scenarios with patients such as a patient asking to become “Facebook friends,” as part of a clinical skills course on patient interaction and taking patient histories.
Third- and fourth-year medical students will interview members of the community to better understand how the local patient population uses social networks and how online communication could improve patient health.
Social media in medicine is the subject of a lot of discussion and medical professionals seem at times to contradict each other about how best to use it. A PricewaterhouseCoopers report released earlier this year showed that one-third of U.S. adults use social media to discuss healthcare issues and 41 percent of people surveyed would use it to contact healthcare providers. Online physician communities like Sermo allow physicians to network with each other well away from the prying eyes of potential patients, while some physicians seem to be comfortable dispensing advice to inquisitive minds.