BY NEBULA CHOWDHURY
Initially, one may think that the only links between ‘surgery’ and ‘social media’ is that they both start with the letter ‘S’ and that they are two things that an average middle-aged person may not completely understand. However, upon deeper reflection, one would realise that we have been using social media to benefit the surgical world in many ways.
Social media is increasingly playing a role in surgical education. Relying on books and lecturers alone is an obsolete concept as students are perpetually utilizing the Internet to complement their studies. In her editorial, “Using social media effectively in surgical practice”, Texas cardiac surgeon Dr Mara Antonoff writes her experience of supervising an intern who was placing a central line for the first time. She recalls watching in awe as the intern did the process flawlessly. When Dr Antonoff asked the intern who had taught her, she clarified that she learnt it through ‘Youtube’ and had only physically gone to one simulation class. This highlights the changing nature of the way education is being delivered to the next generation of surgeons. Various social media sites contain vast amounts of credible content. On ‘Youtube’ alone, there exist numerous medical education channels such as John Gilmore M.D, Dr. Najeeb Lectures and many more. Education through social media is not limited to medical professionals – certain content is created for the prospective patient. A leading Sydney Plastic Surgeon, Dr Eddy Dona, live-streams entire uncensored cosmetic procedures on his Snapchat channel. Though controversial, Dr Dona believes that this strategy successfully provides people with complete medical details so that they can look past the ‘glitz and glamour’ of plastic surgery in order to make a holistic decision on whether to undertake a cosmetic procedure.
Social media is also a prodigious platform for information sharing and discussion. This is due to its ability to bring large numbers of like-minded people together. For example, The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons regularly updates their Facebook page to keep surgeons and medical students updated on the happenings of the surgical world. Social events, important journal articles and many other relevant information are all conveniently curated in one place, providing a highly accessible medium for health professionals to keep up with the important knowledge. Additionally, the fact that social media allows for the easy gathering of people from all over the world enables health professionals to engage in scholarly discussions with colleagues that they might not have been able to reach otherwise. For example, there exists an “International General Surgery” journal club on Twitter, which goes by the name of “Int Gen Surg J Club”. This club connects thousands of medical professionals who meet online monthly to discuss new articles related to general surgery. The many contributions of people from 69 nations allow for a more sophisticated discussion- and it would have been impossible to maintain such monthly meetings if they were to do them in person.
The fact that social media enables widespread reach also renders it an attractive realm for advertisement and publicity. Both surgeons and hospitals use their social media pages to share success stories and promote their practice. Dr Simon Ourian, the Kardashians’ plastic surgeon, has posted hundreds of pictures on his Instagram account ‘simonourianmd1’ showcasing the various dermatological cosmetic procedures that he has done. Recently, on their Facebook page, the Royal Children’s Hospital also posted a video of a young girl going through her cancer treatment. 5-year-old Christy was diagnosed with aggressive neuroblastoma and the video shows the cycles of radiation therapy, chemotherapy, stem cell transplant and other procedures that the little girl went through until she was finally in remission. The posting of success stories and procedures confers credibility and experience onto the business, incentivizing prospective patients to choose them over other services.
There are also patient-specific services empowered by social media – such as financial services and support services. It goes against the fundamental nature of surgery to cost patients an arm and a leg but that happens to be the case for many procedures. For patients in need of financial aid, there are many crowdfunding websites around the world which allow them to raise the money required. A prominent local example is mycause.com.auwhere surgical patients or their families can start an online campaign by posting the amount that they need to raise, accompanied by pictures and a brief medical story. Patients would then continuously update their treatment progress and donors would comment the amount that they gift along with a message for the patient. These sites are accessible worldwide, connecting patients with almost anyone around the world. This makes it more likely that the patient would encounter someone that would sympathize with them, increasing their chances of receiving a donation. In terms of support services, there exist many online support groups for patients that have undergone various procedures or are experiencing a certain condition. The global website inspire.comcontains hundreds of these in one place. Patients can join an online community and talk to other members, benefiting from the company of people that can empathize with them.
However, there are certain disadvantages to having social media linked to the surgical world. The notorious doctor-rating websites such as RateMDsand Vitalsare a good example. The fact that many patients ‘google’ their surgeon places too heavy an emphasis on such platforms and their ratings which have a possibility of being misleading. These sites allow for anonymous reviews and have features where doctors can pay to have reviews hidden or have banner advertisements on the pages of other non-paying doctors. These ‘tactics’ reduce the integrity of these websites, not making them an honest provider of surgeon information, instead fostering a toxic sense of competition.
So, are surgery and social media incompatible? Not at all. Amongst its many other uses, it is already being employed in the educational, informational, promotional, financial and supportive aspects of surgery. Despite the problems, there is a net benefit in employing social media in surgery. It is already enriching our present surgical world and there is no doubt that if managed correctly it will continue to do so in the future.