Using social media to connect with patients directly

It’s no secret that social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have become a significant part of our daily lives. People uses these sites around the clock to share news, gossip, and personal anecdotes with friends and complete strangers. Businesses use them to reach consumers directly, getting more efficient results than the expensive TV commercials of the past.

In radiology, social media’s impact has been equally widespread, and it continues to evolve.

Numerous studies—including this one from Johnson et al. and this one from Hawkins et al.—have examined social media’s role in educating the next generation of radiologists and improving communication within the profession. But social media users are also embracing another way it can make a significant impact: by helping patients.

Earlier this year, for instance, the women’s imaging network Mammosphere hosted a #Mammochat Twitter Q&A. Five radiologists who specialize in breast imaging hosted the Q&A, answering questions about topics such as screening age guidelines, patient engagement, and resources for patients recently diagnosed with breast cancer. This was Mammosphere’s first #Mammochat, but more are on the way.

Nancy M. Cappello, PhD, the director and founder of both Are You Dense and Are You Dense Advocacy, recently wrote about the transformative power of social media for The Huffington Post. Social media sites bring advocates, survivors, and providers together, she said, and help individuals who may feel confused or frightened by their own experiences or the experiences of loved ones.

“My advocacy work and our immense reach through social media give me the opportunity to console a sister or brother, to offer hope to them and their families as they ‘live’ with a breast cancer diagnosis,” Cappello wrote.

Of course, social media users must be aware that not everyone online is a true expert. For every radiologist using Twitter to share his or her thoughts about breast screening recommendations, there might be 10 people posing a experts who actually have no medical training whatsoever.

But radiologists should know they have a new way to make a legitimate connection with patients. Just one reply on Twitter or post on Facebook could make a big difference in someone’s life.