Social Media and Medicine

evidence based healthcare mental health social media social media and medicine Jun 19, 2023

Join Dr. Katharine Smart, a pediatrician in Whitehorse, Yukon and former President for the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) and Dr. Alicia as they discuss the growing intersection of medicine and social media, and how healthcare providers can use social media to help educate and empower patients to have better outcomes within the healthcare system.



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[00:00:50] Dr. Alicia Power: Hello, everybody. I am so excited for our guest today. Dr. Katharine Smart is joining us to talk all about healthcare and social media and how we as healthcare providers can use social media to [00:01:00] help educate and empower our patients and our clients, to have better outcomes in our system. Katharine, I'm just gonna let you introduce yourself, tell us a little bit about yourself and how you have come to where you are on your journey.

[00:01:13] Dr. Katharine Smart: Thank you. And thanks for the invite to be on your podcast today. My clinical work is as a pediatrician and I've worked in a huge variety of settings as a pediatrician from emergency departments and children's hospitals to remote communities in the Arctic. And my current practice is consultative pediatrics in Whitehorse, in the Yukon where we see huge variety of issues and really deal with the full spectrum of pediatric care. And then I've just come off of a year as being the president of the Canadian Medical Association. And I'm in my past president year. And I think it was really that experience that got me into social media. Cause I started using social media during the pandemic, for education and advocacy. And then I really started to see the power of it in terms of connecting with patients and the public, around information around COVID and then of course expanding out from there, just around our health in general. [00:02:00]

[00:02:00] Dr. Alicia Power: That's awesome. And certainly today we're gonna focus on kind of the health promotion for patients and clients, but there's a huge advocacy piece as well, which, it could be an entirely different podcast around advocating for appropriate healthcare for our populations, with our government, et cetera, et cetera. You do both of those through your social media accounts and you're on Twitter, I think @katharine smart and on Instagram, same thing. And then you host a podcast called Spark and it's conversations around, for child and health, child and youth health. Sorry. Correct.

[00:02:31] Dr. Katharine Smart: Yes. That's right. So I'm @KatharineSmart on Twitter, no doctor in that one and yeah, that's exactly right. I do host that podcast and that's really more focused on healthcare, leadership and policy. But as you said, I've used my platforms, both for advocacy, but also for patient education and information sharing with the public, which I think is really important, especially right now, when it's really challenging for people. I think to know where to get reliable information.

[00:02:56] Dr. Alicia Power: Yeah. So how did you get into the kind of social media for patient [00:03:00] education piece of it? So obviously through your work with the Canadian Medical Association. I imagine there was a lot of advocacy in that social media use. But how did you actually get into the focusing on patient education? What needs did you see in the community?

[00:03:11] Dr. Katharine Smart: I think, as I was in that role as, as president and then of, for me, it was we were already into the pandemic and the vaccine was available and people started coming to me really around vaccine for covid. I think because I'm a pediatrician, obviously vaccination is really important to us in pediatrics. Also, I'm sure to others listening in this call and something I've always felt very strongly about, there was of course this big need to start talking to the public about it. And I, I think probably for all of us it was probably maybe surprising, maybe not. I think, of course, with us In health, we were really excited about the possibility of a vaccine for COVID and it happened really arguably very fast. Probably, maybe mistakenly thought everyone would be pretty excited to get this vaccine. And then we started seeing, that start to splinter, right. And there started to be of course, this huge misinformation movement. People, really giving people bad [00:04:00] information about the COVID vaccine, dangerous information. And we started to see people dying because they were choosing not to be vaccinated because of this misinformation and that really struck a chord with me. I thought, wow, here we are in this really unbelievable global health emergency. We now have a very safe, effective option for people that is going to dramatically reduce their risk of a bad outcome or death. And we've got vulnerable people not choosing, that because of something they've read on Facebook or read on Twitter, heard online from a friend, and just how dangerous that was. So I really started to feel like I needed to start to use the platform I had to speak about vaccination and to try to answer people's questions and also just hopefully be out there as a trusted face in the public countering that misinformation. So that, that really motivated me to do that. And then I think the other thing is, of course in my work as CMA president talking a lot about the limitations in the healthcare system, something that really struck me was just how many Canadians don't have access to a trusted healthcare professional, with one in five [00:05:00] Canadians, not having a family doctor or another provider in primary care. I think more and more people don't have that trusted person to go to. And those of us who provide longitudinal care know how important those relationships are. And we know that our patients come to us with these types of questions because they trust us, and because we have a relationship. So for people that don't have that, where are they supposed to go? So I really started to think about, maybe I need to expand my lens of who's my patient, beyond just the people that come and see me for direct medical care to my community. And to try to use, again, my platform and my knowledge, to, really try to talk to the community as a whole, not just the patients that are in my clinic.

[00:05:37] Dr. Alicia Power: That's awesome. And yeah, a colleague and I started preg, like a patient focused information hub, She Found Motherhood back in the beginning of the pandemic, because we were finding the same thing. And especially for people like in your community, not in your community, but in the more rural areas, it's really hard to come by a trusted medical provider, cuz oftentimes there just isn't the capacity to do that. Or have those kind of longer conversations cuz there's so busy [00:06:00] trying to care for the people they have. So having somewhere that people can go to for that trusted medical information, we don't give medical advice on social media obviously, but that medical information is so huge and so impactful for people and really gives them that kind of sense of confidence and really helps to battle the misinformation as well.

[00:06:17] When you're speaking about vaccine hesitancy, if anybody is listening and they're having challenges, having conversations around vaccine hesitancy with parents, we actually did a podcast and we released it not too long ago about Talking to Vaccine Hesitant Parents, and it's it was really eyeopening for me. There's such huge money in the anti-vax movement. And parents are really, honestly just trying to do their best to make the right decisions for their children. But the information they're getting is not from reliable sources and that's not their fault because they don't have that, kind of, healthcare literacy to understand what are good sources and what are bad sources. So they're really just trying to do their best. So make sure to have a listen to that podcast if you haven't and you have challenges with chatting, or with people around vaccines because it is, it's a hard [00:07:00] topic I find To talk to,

[00:07:01] Dr. Katharine Smart: Yeah, I agree.

[00:07:02] Dr. Alicia Power: Because I'm so passionate. Right. And yeah. And so then you get defensive about it. And so just being compassionate and curious yes, around people's intentions is really the most important thing.

[00:07:11] Dr. Katharine Smart: When I think how you frame that is really important too, right? Vaccine hesitancy. Like I think that's what people need to really realize is the vast majority of people fall into that category. Right? They're not staunch anti-vaxxers, they're not people spreading the misinformation. They're hesitant. They're not sure. And they're stuck in that place of indecision because they're being bombarded with low quality, but, scary and emotionally compelling information, and it's allowing them to stay in this space of indecision. But I totally agree with you we need to be careful about how we approach that and how we relationship build around that because it's very easy to turn people off if we come on too strong, and I think too often people get shamed in that space, and that should never be our intention. Our intention should be to build relationship and share high quality information, but you're right. It can be emotional. And sometimes we don't always perform our best when we're feeling that way.

[00:07:59] Dr. Alicia Power: [00:08:00] Indeed. I know a lot of my colleagues are wary about using social media as a kind of a healthcare platform. The people I'm serving are 20 to 45 year olds. Like the vast majority of people are getting their healthcare information on social media or at least a part of it. But I think as healthcare providers, we have this, especially as physicians, I see a lot more allied health people care providers on social media. But I think as physicians, we have these fears or there's these blockages from allowing us to actually use social media to get information out there. I was wondering if you might be able to chat a little bit about what you've heard from people. Or what concerns that you can imagine healthcare providers have and maybe how to mitigate those concerns a little bit.

[00:08:37] Dr. Katharine Smart: Yeah, great question. I think there's a whole variety of things. I think one is just the first step, I think, is people's lens on, is this a professional thing to do? Is it unprofessional of me as a physician to be in a social media space or is it, somehow not something that I should be thinking about. So I think people worry a bit about that. I think there's also that balance, as you were saying earlier, between sharing health information and giving medical information [00:09:00] and people want worry about walking that line. So I think that's important for physicians to realize, our role there is really general education, of course we need to make sure we're not giving out individual medical advice, but I think people struggle or worry. Am I gonna step over a line or is there some risk there for me? So I think that's concerning. I think people see the harassment and the negativity that can happen online and they think, I don't really want to deal with that. I don't want to be on social media being trolled or insulted by people. So it's sometimes easier to pull back. So that can be a barrier. And then I think it's also how it's perceived, amongst your colleagues. I've had several colleagues who do a lot of work in that space. Again, work I think is highly valuable, but that's not always the feedback they get from other colleagues, who maybe don't see it as important or as meaningful as other work that people do in medicine. So I think part of this is us shifting our frame to realize, this is where people are getting the vast majority of their health information. That's what the data tells us. We are healthcare professionals and providers. We are trusted [00:10:00] sources of health information. So we've gotta modernize our lens on this too. And we have to modernize our lens on what does it mean to be a physician advocate? And I think advocacy also means sharing and educating people and that's where these things are happening. I think medicine in general tends to be conservative like small C conservative, like just by nature we're a little bit afraid of change and new things. And this is, I think, an example of that. And I think there's some early adapters who are like, yourselves who are out there doing really excellent things. And I think you're probably seeing, right, the impact that you're having. And I think that's why it's so important that we talk about these things, is people that are in that space are seeing that they can have impact. And I've seen that myself. I was doing a lot around the vaccine and people would message me and say, I wasn't sure, but I got my family vaccinated cause I heard what you said. I thought, wow. That's so meaningful for me to be able to extend that impact beyond my direct patient care to the community. So I think we have to really, as a profession, talk about it, not be afraid, those of us doing it need to have these types of conversations. We need to share our success stories [00:11:00] and we need to mentor and support each other, right? I think it's always a little bit scary to be out on a limb a bit or doing something new. And I think we need to normalize it. We need to encourage it. And we need to recognize that this is part of our job and social media's not going anywhere, right? So, we can put our head in the sand, but it's still gonna be there. And if, and the other thing I always think is, if it's not us in those spaces, then who is it? And right now what's very clear is the misinformation movement is on steroids. It's caused a huge amount of harm and death. And I think we have to be out there combating that misinformation. I think it really has become a professional responsibility because the risk is just so high.

[00:11:35] Dr. Alicia Power: And I think the other thing that we can maybe spin and remember is for every time we use social media, we're reaching a huge amount of people compared to those one-on-one conversations in our office. So like one of the reasons that we do the work that we do on our patient focused is it just takes a lot of the onus off those conversations that you're having over and over, and again, in the office, because you can send them to somewhere that has trusted information. Whether that's your own or whether that's somebody else that kind of, has the information out [00:12:00] there. And so it really makes those conversations easier. Sleep tips, potty training, asthma, eczema, like all of those things that you talk about over and over in your office, you can really use social media to make those conversations easier. The patients are already primed. They already have a little bit of a sense of what's going on. And then you can just take it to the next level or individualize it for the person sitting in front of you, which I think people necessarily don't necessarily think about when they think about kind of social media.

[00:12:25] Dr. Katharine Smart: Yeah. Oh, I totally agree And that's what really struck me when I started doing this work, cuz you could see the views, right? How many people watched it? How many people, sometimes you could see how many people are live when you're doing it live, but then how many people watch it after. And just like you say, you're reaching hundreds, if not thousands of people with an hour of your time. Normally in an hour of my time I'm reaching two people. So it the impact is huge. And the scalability of it is huge. And again, right now, when so many people are struggling to get reliable information and struggling to have a provider. Being able to send people to these sources of information for common things is really, really important.[00:13:00]

[00:13:00] Dr. Alicia Power: And I think another thing we see in our world, which maybe is a little bit different in your world, but there's a lot of stigma around perinatal mental health and about postpartum recovery from vaginal or cesarean deliveries. And so people don't talk about a lot of the things like for instance, we did a, I did a post on granulation tissue and vaginal granulation tissue, post vaginal delivery. And literally the next week in my office, I had three people come in and they said I've been suffering from, I don't, vaginal pain. I saw your post. So I thought I would come in and one of them had it and we were able to treat it, right? And so it's, it destigmatizes a lot of those things that people are afraid to talk about with you. But if you actually say, you know what, this is, this happens. Talk to your care provider about it because we wanna hear about it and it's important to us to know. I'm not sure in the pediatric world, how much of that there is, but still there still is in terms of kind of developmental disorders. I'm sure. Absolutely. All types of, absolutely, parenting like parenting issues are huge.

[00:13:51] Dr. Katharine Smart: And also mental health, that's another big one. A huge amount of my practice is mental health. And, you know, as you would appreciate there's, and you're talking about, postpartum [00:14:00] depression, there's still a lot of stigma around that. And I agree, I'm seeing, more youth advocate for themselves. Hey, I saw this, I'm wondering, could this be me? They come in with really good questions, than they're really engaged in their care and they're motivated. They want good information. And again, it's that, like you said, it's, de-stigmatizing these things that these things are common, they happen to most people actually. And we wanna talk about it so we can direct you to the right things and make sure you're getting the right care. So I agree. I think anything that gets patients asking good questions and connecting with people and feeling empowered around their health is so important.

[00:14:32] Dr. Alicia Power: So we've actually chatted about what are the dangers of us not being present on social media, right. The dangers are that they're getting, people are going there for information. So if the right information is not there present, they're gonna glom onto whatever information is there. So I think we covered quite a bit of that. I'm guess, I'm curious if somebody is interested in getting involved in social media, if somebody's curious about it. If they've been inspired by this podcast or something else, how would you recommend for people to start that [00:15:00] journey?

[00:15:01] Dr. Katharine Smart: Yeah, good question. I think the first thing you have to decide is what's your purpose on social media? What are you hoping to achieve so that you can choose the platform that makes the most sense for you? For what we've been talking about today, things like patient education. I think platforms, for example, like instagram or Facebook are probably lend themselves better to that cause they're longer format. You can do reels, you can do live events, you can have more carousels and things where you're really actually sharing like a decent quantity of information. So I think those work very well in that regard. So I, I would think, if that's what you're trying to do, think about that. Where do you best situate yourself. TikTok is another one, right? People are doing a lot of education on TikTok. Whereas Twitter, to me, that's more the short, snappy, I think Twitter's great. More for that advocacy space, trying to drive a narrative, trying to draw attention to things, but it doesn't probably lend itself as much to patient education, the type of patient education we're talking about. Because of course the format's so much shorter. But again, it doesn't mean you can't then, put yourself out there, advocating about these things and then using [00:16:00] that to drive people to your other platform. Say, if you're curious more about this, check out my Instagram. So I think it's a bit of knowing what space is gonna do what you want. I think then, the next step I would say is, some people that are in the space you're interested in and have a look at what they're doing and what you like about it, what works, how they're employing those platforms. So you can get some sense of what might be a way you wanna go about it. I think getting some mentorship is great. Again, reach out to those folks and say, hey, I'm interested in doing this too. What are your tips and tricks? What are lessons learned? I think all of us in that space, you know, have had some wins and failures and could share some tips around that. But also just to get some ideas around. What have you found? It really is something that people engage with because it's always best, I think, to build on things that people already know work rather than starting from scratch. So I think that's helpful.

[00:16:45] And then I think those same people can start to offer you some feedback on what you're doing and help you. And then I think there's also that opportunity to promote each other, right? Like when you're, when you connect with people that are, like-minded doing work, that you agree with or something you wanna amplify, [00:17:00] there's chances to pair up and do that. And I've been really fortunate. I've had a few different uh, Canadian physicians that are doing this work, reach out and have me on their channel, right? Hey, can we do a live with you or this? And that's great. Right. It's a nice opportunity for me to meet colleagues. But it's also a, allows us to amplify each other's work. So I think it, again, it's building that community, around this so that we can all be amplifying each other is great. So I think for people that are thinking about getting in that space you know, try to tag onto that and let's all build and rise each other up. I think that's really, to me, the goal, and I think the more, again, we're sending each other to each other's sites, it for the people that already trust us, again, it's saying, Hey, I'm Dr. Power. I'm doing this space. Hey, this is Dr. Smart. She's in pediatrics. If you have more questions about your kiddos, like you might wanna check out what she's doing. I think these are all ways of making sure our patients are, are finding people that we feel comfortable, that they're gonna be getting information from. So those are things I would think about if you're new to the space.

[00:17:55] Dr. Alicia Power: Yeah, and it can be pretty simple to start off with. You start a Facebook channel for your clinic. And then you just post [00:18:00] interesting high quality information on there, that can just be you engaging in social media. Yeah, you don't even have to get in front of the camera if you don't want or get on the podcast or do anything like that.

[00:18:08] Or you can take it to the next level. And you can also create a website that has links to your YouTube channel, with your videos on certain topics that you can just send your patients to. And it just makes it easy for them to access trusted, a trusted source of information.

[00:18:21] Dr. Katharine Smart: Yeah.

[00:18:22] Dr. Alicia Power: Yeah

[00:18:22] Dr. Katharine Smart: Absolutely. And I think even something as simple as directing patients to reliable websites, that have good information, like you say, we've got everything from like basic websites that just have print information all the way up to YouTube channels and video, all that and everything in between. I agree. I think having that curated source for your patients around, hey, this is the stuff I want you to know about, I think is amazing. And now we're lucky nowadays that the technology to do that's getting simpler, less expensive. And it allows that kind of one-stop shopping, which also ultimately I think makes things more efficient for us, right. Because we can say, 'Hey! No problem. I've got answers for that. Here's my website. Have a look,' so you're not ha like you said earlier, you're not having to maybe repeat yourself [00:19:00] over and over about all the same information. Exactly.

[00:19:02] Dr. Alicia Power: Awesome. Any final thoughts on kind of physicians and social media that you wanted to share before we wrap up? Cuz I know you've got a busy day ahead of you.

[00:19:12] Dr. Katharine Smart: I would just say, don't be afraid to step out into that space. I think it can be a lot of fun. You meet a lot of really passionate colleagues that are there too. You know, I think people that are in that space are there because they care about patient education, they're not afraid of taking risks, trying something new. So I think, just connecting with people that are interested in that can be a lot of fun. I think just, realizing that this is where we're at uh, this day and age, and we need to be out there combating that misinformation. Arguably misinformation right now is emerging as one of the biggest threats to health and more and more papers are coming out and showing the cost of it dollars wise and lives wise, so I think it's an impactful space to be in. So I would really encourage physicians and other healthcare providers to be in that space and not be afraid of it. And again, let's, let's continue to meet each other amplify each other, knowing when we do that, we're really having an incredible impact [00:20:00] on our communities and our patients.

[00:20:01] Dr. Alicia Power: I agree with you. Thank you Katharine so much for joining me today. I really appreciate your time and your expertise and your suggestions around how people can actually engage in social media in a way that feels right for them, because really you have to be comfortable with what you're doing. And from the medical point of view, you can always touch base with our Canadian Medical Protective Agency before you start and understand from their side what you need to think about. And so that's, I think a really important step as well. Just to get more comfortable in it. So again, if you wanna follow Katharine, check her out at Katharine Smart on Twitter, at Dr. Katherine Smart on Instagram, and at The Spark Podcast.

[00:20:38] Dr. Katharine Smart: Thank you so much. It was great to be with you today.


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