Social Media Use Among Rheumatology Professionals

More than 80% of surveyed participants indicated that they used at least 1 social media platform—including Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn—for at least 6 hours per week.

Due to ease of access, a large number of rheumatology professionals have adopted social media as a medium for professional development, networking, and education, according to research published in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases.

Elena Nikiphorou, MD, of the rheumatology department at Whittington Hospital, London, and colleagues, conducted an online survey of members of the Emerging European League Against Rheumatism Network (EMEUNET) to identify perceptions, barriers, and patterns of social media use within the rheumatology profession.

Over 230 anonymous responses were collected from rheumatology fellows and scientists (66% female; 72% age 30-39) across 47 countries. A majority of surveys were completed via email (90%); 6% were completed via Twitter, and 4% were completed via Facebook.

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Responses showed that 83% of all survey participants actively used at least 1 social media platform with a mean frequency of 6 hours of use per week; 71% reported using social media in a work-related manner. 

Participants indicated that their primary uses of social media were communicating with friends and colleagues (79%), receiving news updates (76%), entertainment (69%), receiving rheumatology clinical updates (50%), and research updates (48%). Facebook, used by 91% of participants, was the post popular social media platform.

Of the participants who used social media in a professional setting, 81% reported using it as a source of new information, while 76% aimed to expand their professional networks. Of the responders, 59% and 47% found new resources and learned new skills, respectively, while 46% focused on establishing a professional online presence. These users had an overall increased use of social media—8 hours weekly—with 5 hours dedicated to specific work-related use (4.5 hours weekly, P =.02). 

High Yield Data Summary

  • Eighty-three percent of survey respondents considered themselves active social media users, while 9% of participants were concerned that social media use would reflect poorly on their professional reputations.

The primary obstacle preventing users for accessing social media was a lack of knowledge on how to use it (30%). Sixty-eight percent felt that social media was a safe method of communication, while 9% were concerned that social media use would have a negative impact on their reputation; 37% worried about the safety, exposure of private life, and time-consuming nature of social media use.

Summary and Clinical Applicability

“This study provides insights into the use of social media within the clinical academic and rheumatology community,” Dr Nikiphorou and colleagues wrote. “It was notable that 83% of those completing the survey were active users of at least one social media platform…with the majority of use being carried out in a work-related manner.”

Findings were similar across medical specialty areas, although when compared to results from a survey of oncologists in Canada, 11% more rheumatologists reported using social media.

Despite lingering concerns from a small subset of participants, social media use is overall positively perceived among rheumatology professionals, and continued social media use is likely to improve access to information, enhance self-directed learning, networking opportunities, and improved efficacy of the current healthcare system.

“Social media is increasingly providing new significant possibilities for learning and development in a fast, novel, and modern way,” the researchers concluded. “We expect that the impact of social media will grow over the next decade.”

Limitations and Disclosures

  • The researchers did not explore participants’ reasons behind their perceptions of social media use or access
  • The survey did not collect details on use of specific social media platforms, such as YouTube
  • Only 10% of survey respondents were over 40 years of age, limiting the generalizability across younger age groups

Disclosures: The researchers report no conflicts of interest.

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  1. Nikiphorou E, Studenic P, Ammitzbøll CG, et al, on behalf of EMEUNET. Social media use among young rheumatologists and basic scientists: results of an international survey by the Emerging EULAR Network (EMEUNET). Ann Rheum Dis. 2016; doi: 10.1136/annrheumdis-2016-209718

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