How social media makes us better doctors: Lessons from Heart Rhythm Society 2013

Dr John Mandrola


May 14, 2013

Slowly but surely the leaders of medicine are recognizing the power of social media.

Setting the stage

In the not-so-distant past, medical opinion was shaped only with words written in the private world of scientific journals. The real-world doctor had nary a voice. This is changing rapidly. The freedom and realness of social media are breaking down old barriers. Thoughtful, candid, and often raw voices from the real world are beginning to shape the healthcare conversation.

During the Heart Rhythm Society sessions, I had the honor to share the stage with three leaders in healthcare social media (#HCSM). Along with Drs Wes Fisher and Jay Schloss and healthcare lawyer Bob Coffield , we presented a session titled Social Media for Physicians—The State of the Art.

The pioneer

Dr Wes Fisher went first. As it should be, the guy has been on the blogosphere since the days of the flip-phone. He helped both Jay and me get our start. Wes presented the big picture of social media. He asked for a show of hands from the large audience on how many did not have a smartphone. The answer: Zero. Point made. Social media is coming, whether we like it or not. It is a freight train of change. Facebook is now at one billion users in the last quarter.

One specific thing I learned from Wes was the handiness of RSS feeds, which are ways to bring content to you rather than you going to get content. Join 2.3 million others and watch this YouTube video on how best to organize your content.

There’s one more important thing you need to know about Wes: when we first met last year—in real life—he greeted me with a huge bear hug. That tells you something. Friendly bear hugs . . . a metaphor for social media, perhaps?

The lawyer

Healthcare lawyer Bob Coffield presented the legal aspects of social media. Here is a perfect quote: "Listening to presentations and reading written materials is helpful, but actually participating in social media is where you really learn." You can relive much of Bob’s presentation by checking out this link-filled trove of information called the Social Media Bucket List . Go check it out.

The "ever-thoughtful"

The ever-thoughtful Dr Jay Schloss was up next. Jay presented social media as an agent for change. Quoting Margaret Mead, Jay pointed out that we should "never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." President Clinton also emphasized the wisdom of groups during his plenary session. Jay cited many examples of how activism on social media moved major organizations. These included his citizen journalism of the Riata summit (where mainstream media was not invited) and his focus on the deficits of electronic-health-record usability, among many others. Here was the point: social media is an equalizer. It gives real-world physicians a seat at the table of healthcare improvement.

And . . . DrJohnM

I went last. After giving a sobering Hyde Park talk the day before on such serious matters as the woeful decision quality surrounding ICD conversations, it was a pleasure to just be DrJohnM.

My take on social media is the same as everything in life: success comes from mastering the obvious. Basic courtesy and human nature also apply to social media: be nice, be positive, be real, be honest, and share.

I told the audience to consider me the feasibility study—like one of Vivek Reddy's patients from Eastern Europe. I haven't died! After three years on social media, I am okay. And if a goofball like me can do it, so can you.

Five reasons to use social media

Everyone has their own reasons to use social media, but here are five of mine:

I love the practice of medicine, and it inspires me to write.

Social media increases the good we can do. When you educate the patient in the exam room, you have helped one person. When you provide useful information online, you help many more.

I am freaky about education. Learning feels almost as good as a bike ride. Social media amplifies the learning process.

Social media connects. Humans do well with networks. We are social creatures. You will be shocked how cool it is to talk to with another caregiver in Africa or Australia. Dr Nassir Marrouche tweeted this about social media: "improve communication to improve medicine." He's right.

Social media allows doctors to display humanness. We are not cyborgs; we are just people. The realness of social media is what makes it so compelling. When you read a blog post from a thoughtful doctor, you often say to yourself: "Gosh, that was a really useful take."


Heart-rhythm doctors will disagree on many topics. There are great debates about ICDs, anticoagulation, AF-ablation strategies, CRT therapy, and many others. But one thing we can all agree on is this: We all want to be the best electrophysiologist possible.

Social media can help us get there.

Electrophysiologists are leaders. We should the lead the way to harnessing the power of social media. It is a great tool to do more good.


My presentation at Social Media for Physicians—The State of the Art


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