There are many reasons for physicians to become involved in social media, and various studies have now also proven the benefits. Nonetheless, risks must also be taken into account, as we learned at ASCO 2019.
"If we make the most of social media, it can help us do a lot better...and improve our own well-being," concluded Jane Lowe Meisel, Winship Cancer Institute, Emory University, Atlanta, USA, at an Educational Symposium during the 2019 ASCO (American Society of Clinical Oncology) Annual Meeting on Social Media in Oncology.
Meisel first asked for the motivations that lead physicians to go into oncology. For her, the choice of oncology was important to care for patients at crucial points in their lives with deep, lasting relationships. This practice also allows research and clinical engagements to be combined because knowledge changes rapidly and much research is required. And oncology makes it possible to get to know difficult areas of patient care, such as drug development and clinical trial design, the delivery of bad news, and the accompaniment to the end of life.
However - as so often - ideal and reality stand far apart. Every day the oncologist has to discuss difficult messages with the patients and help them in situations that he and his family will not forget. "The demands on our time and our emotions are extreme," says Meisel. This is why stress and burnout are very common in oncologists.
An ASCO survey showed that about 45% of the 1,490 oncologists who answered the questionnaire were burned out. The higher the number of weekly working hours, the more likely the physician was to have the burned-out perception. There is a risk of isolation because the hard working days of oncologists often differ from the hard working days of colleagues in other medical disciplines.
In order to remain resilient, Meisel recommends finding people who can understand what the oncologist is going through. Of help here can be virtual groups, like ASCO Connection. As another example, Meisel cited the Hematology-Oncology Women Physician Group (HOWPG), a private Facebook group of more than 1,350 women working in hematology/oncology. It offers support in all oncologist situations, from problems with patients to difficulties with colleagues or employees, salary negotiations, work-life balance, job offers, and virtual tumor boards. A recent publication has shown that group members benefit from emotional support and are more satisfied with their professional development, which in turn reduces the risk of burnout.
Social media can not only help the oncologist emotionally but also offer valuable professional support. Therapy standards in oncology are changing rapidly, and there are numerous new developments all the time. Social media groups allow the oncologist to discuss individual cases with colleagues. This is particularly important in rural areas where fewer specialists are active. In the social media groups you can search for colleagues for a second opinion or experts for further treatment, e.g. "Does anyone know a lung cancer expert at the University of Michigan?" or "Does anyone know a melanoma specialist at Hopkins?" or "My patient would like a second opinion at MSKCC... can anyone give me a recommendation?".
Social media also allows you to get out of your "own bubble". You get to know new job opportunities that can be inspiring for your own career. "Virtual interactions can turn into concrete and interesting relationships that can sometimes lead to a job offer or a lecture."
Due to the increasing specialization in oncology, collaborations in research are often only possible over long distances. The exchange of information via the Internet facilitates this considerably.
So there are many reasons to get involved in social media and various studies have also proven the benefits. Nevertheless, risks must also be taken into account. Meisel recommended the following precautions:
Meisel JL. Creating connections and building community: Social media and physician quality of life. Educational Symposium" Tweets, chats, and posts: using social media to transcend boundaries and create opportunities for patients", 2019 ASCO Annual Meeting, Chicago, 31 May to 4 June 2019.