Do surgeon social media stars help or harm orthopedics? 4 surgeons weigh in

Orthopedic

Some orthopedic surgeons have taken advantage of social media platforms, including Twitter, TikTok and LinkedIn, to educate viewers and provide an insider look into their practices.

While some surgeons are excited about the opportunities social media can provide, others caution against the limelight.

Ask Orthopedic Surgeons is a weekly series of questions posed to surgeons around the country about clinical, business and policy issues affecting orthopedic care. We invite all orthopedic surgeon and specialist responses.

Next question: What has been the most surprising aspect of your career so far?

Please send responses to Carly Behm at cbehm@beckershealthcare.com by 5 p.m. CDT Wednesday, April 6, 2022.

Editor's note: Responses were edited for style.

Question: Are surgeon social media influencers doing more good or harm for orthopedics?

Adam Bitterman, DO. Huntington (N.Y.) Hospital: Orthopedic surgeon social media influencers are positive influencers for the specialty and medicine as a whole. All together, these influencers help promote orthopedics from multiple perspectives. They are providing an educational network for not only their patients but colleagues as well. In addition, they provide an avenue for interaction such that professional advancement may occur. All this being said, it must be done properly and professionally without violating patient privacy.

Charles Land, MD. Pinnacle Orthopaedics (Marietta, Ga.): In general, surgeon social media influencers are increasing awareness and providing information about how certain procedures can be performed as well as some of the technical aspects of certain surgical procedures. While providing accurate information to the public is certainly positive, often surgeon social media influencers discount, or don't mention indications or potential complications at all. I have had patients in my clinic asking for certain surgeries or procedures that they have seen online or in social media with pathology that is absolutely treated in a different manner, and sometimes not surgically at all. Unfortunately, these patients can feel like their problems are being discounted and that they are being unheard, which causes them to look elsewhere for a specific procedure. I'm all for providing patient information, but in some instances, patients seem to be viewing these social media posts almost as advertisements, which can cause them to seek out specific treatment that may not be indicated without fully understanding the complication profile. 

Cory Calendine, MD. Bone and Joint Institute of Tennessee (Franklin): Service is about meeting people where they are, and people are on social media.

There were 3.78 billion social media users in 2021 which is nearly 50 percent of the world population. Facebook alone is used by 2 out of every 3 adults in the U.S. with the average time people spend per day across social media platforms of two hours and 25 minutes.

Now, we are seeing the voices of key opinion leaders  —  a distinction earned by institutional affiliation, number of peer-reviewed publications, etc.  —  starting to compete with the voices of digital opinion leaders  — a term used to describe surgeons able and willing to communicate effectively to the masses across social media.

Change is hard,  especially for an established, successful, and proven system like medicine. However, social media is here, and the ability to participate is universal.

If you feel an opinion shared is harmful, I encourage all of us to speak up in a compassionate way. If you feel an opinion shared is helpful, I encourage you to amplify that message.

LinkedIn, Instagram and to a lesser degree, Twitter, have powerfully connected me to other surgeons and professionals supporting healthcare delivery. Facebook, Instagram and TikTok have powerfully connected me to patients and their families. My goals are simple: to educate, to inspire and to occasionally entertain.

Social media is like with every tool  — some use it for good and some for harm. The key is for us surgeons to remember that whether we are wielding the mallet or the iPhone, 'First do no harm.'

Niranjan Kavadi, MD. Orthopedic surgeon (Oklahoma City): Social media is an invaluable tool in today's world of technology. It is a double-edged sword. Used correctly, it is impactful to reach out to a larger number of audiences in immediate and remote social circles to educate them about the healthcare developments and services offered by the provider to improve their quality of life. It is easier to use, can be directed at recipients who are most relevant, and the effect is quick. On the flip side, patients are sometimes overwhelmed with the information. So boastful marketing through social media about technologies with no scientifically proven benefit is harmful and will misguide them. 

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