Background: Social media are dynamic and interactive computer-mediated communication tools that have high penetration rates in the general population in high-income and middle-income countries. However, in medicine and health care, a large number of stakeholders (eg, clinicians, administrators, professional colleges, academic institutions, ministries of health, among others) are unaware of social media's relevance, potential applications in their day-to-day activities, as well as the inherent risks and how these may be attenuated and mitigated.
Objective: We conducted a narrative review with the aim to present case studies that illustrate how, where, and why social media are being used in the medical and health care sectors.
Methods: Using a critical-interpretivist framework, we used qualitative methods to synthesize the impact and illustrate, explain, and provide contextual knowledge of the applications and potential implementations of social media in medicine and health care. Both traditional (eg, peer-reviewed) and nontraditional (eg, policies, case studies, and social media content) sources were used, in addition to an environmental scan (using Google and Bing Web searches) of resources.
Results: We reviewed, evaluated, and synthesized 76 articles, 44 websites, and 11 policies/reports. Results and case studies are presented according to 10 different categories of social media: (1) blogs (eg, WordPress), (2) microblogs (eg, Twitter), (3) social networking sites (eg, Facebook), (4) professional networking sites (eg, LinkedIn, Sermo), (5) thematic networking sites (eg, 23andMe), (6) wikis (eg, Wikipedia), (7) mashups (eg, HealthMap), (8) collaborative filtering sites (eg, Digg), (9) media sharing sites (eg, YouTube, Slideshare), and others (eg, SecondLife). Four recommendations are provided and explained for stakeholders wishing to engage with social media while attenuating risk: (1) maintain professionalism at all times, (2) be authentic, have fun, and do not be afraid, (3) ask for help, and (4) focus, grab attention, and engage.
Conclusions: The role of social media in the medical and health care sectors is far reaching, and many questions in terms of governance, ethics, professionalism, privacy, confidentiality, and information quality remain unanswered. By following the guidelines presented, professionals have a starting point to engage with social media in a safe and ethical manner. Future research will be required to understand the synergies between social media and evidence-based practice, as well as develop institutional policies that benefit patients, clinicians, public health practitioners, and industry alike.
Keywords: blogging; social media; social network.