Social Media in Professional Medicine: New Resident Perceptions and Practices

J Med Internet Res. 2016 Jun 9;18(6):e119. doi: 10.2196/jmir.5612.


Background: For younger generations, unconstrained online social activity is the norm. Little data are available about perceptions among young medical practitioners who enter the professional clinical arena, while the impact of existing social media policy on these perceptions is unclear.

Objective: The objective of this study was to investigate the existing perceptions about social media and professionalism among new physicians entering in professional clinical practice; and to determine the effects of formal social media instruction and policy on young professionals' ability to navigate case-based scenarios about online behavior in the context of professional medicine.

Methods: This was a prospective observational study involving the new resident physicians at a large academic medical center. Medical residents from 9 specialties were invited to participate and answer an anonymous questionnaire about social media in clinical medicine. Data were analyzed using SAS 9.4 (Cary, NC), chi-square or Fisher's exact test was used as appropriate, and the correct responses were compared between different groups using the Kruskal-Wallis analysis of variance.

Results: Familiarity with current institutional policy was associated with an average of 2.2 more correct responses (P=.01). Instruction on social media use during medical school was related to correct responses for 2 additional questions (P=.03). On dividing the groups into no policy exposure, single policy exposure, or both exposures, the mean differences were found to be statistically significant (3.5, 7.5, and 9.4, respectively) (P=.03).

Conclusions: In this study, a number of young physicians demonstrated a casual approach to social media activity in the context of professional medical practice. Several areas of potential educational opportunity and focus were identified: (1) online privacy, (2) maintaining digital professionalism, (3) safeguarding the protected health information of patients, and (4) the impact of existing social media policies. Prior social media instruction and/or familiarity with a social media policy are associated with an improved performance on case-based questions regarding online professionalism. This suggests a correlation between an instruction about online professionalism and more cautious online behavior. Improving the content and delivery of social media policy may assist in preserving institutional priorities, protecting patient information, and safeguarding young professionals from online misadventure.

Keywords: education; physicians; professionalism; social media.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Internship and Residency*
  • Perception
  • Professionalism*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Social Media*
  • Telemedicine*