Social media in geriatrics

Katherine Walesby is an ST5 and is the BGS Trainees Committee Communications Representative. She tweets at @kewdocshutterstock_134112389

Over recent years, the popularity of social media has spiralled. Not merely amongst celebrities and news channels, but also within the medical profession. It is often wrongly associated as being of “no use to the medical profession” or something that “should be avoided”.

I hope to convince you, if not to embrace it yourself, that it can be a valuable asset within medicine and particularly within our speciality. It is something that many geriatricians and the British Geriatrics Society are harnessing professionally for education, learning and disseminating key messages promoting care for older people.

What is social media? Social Media encompasses many different platforms (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin and Pinterest). The GMC describes it as “web based applications that allow people to create and share content”. Twitter can be a powerful tool both professionally and/or personally. It is a micro-blogging site displaying a message in 140 characters. It could be considered, in a more traditional way, like a post-it note with an important short message.

Why bother? Twitter is often portrayed negatively. I must confess I took years to be fully convinced of its value. Now my view has changed. As with new concepts and ways to interact, people take time to appreciate its application in their own lives. Take for instance emails – it is now hard to imagine life without them. They don’t replace other methods of communication, however, they merely enhance them. Similarly, social media, in particular twitter, is simply another vehicle for communication and learning – an enhancement not a replacement.

Twitter is about connectivity and information sharing; many geriatricians, trainees, nurses and allied health professionals share knowledge on twitter.

Geriatricians on twitter. There are inspirational leaders within our profession who have changed clinical practice solely through twitter. Few at the BGS conference in Manchester listening to Dr Kate Granger’s presentation would find it difficult not to be persuaded of twitter’s impact following her remarkable story of #hellomynameis.

The British Geriatric Society (@Gerisoc) has over 2500 followers. Most medical societies, colleges, universities and scientific journals are on twitter.

By following others interested in your specialty one can learn and share the wealth of knowledge everyone has found; journal articles, presentations, ‘thoughts for the day’, useful clinical tips, twitter journal club, e-learning case discussions and policies.

Dr AnneMarie Cunningham is Clinical Lecturer and Academic Lead for e-Learning at Cardiff University Medical School. Her article discusses ten reasons why medics should consider being involved with twitter (to connect, engage, inform, reflect, share, be challenged, be supported, lead, learn and inspire)3.

Using twitter in Geriatrics: Within geriatrics these are current successes of how twitter is enhancing our specialty, viz.

  • Increasing awareness of Geriatrics: The Association of Elderly Medicine Education (AEME) and their conference Geriatrics for Juniors (G4J) used social media to promote their first conference in 2013 which was a great success. Young Geriatricians (@YoungGeris), set up by the BGS Trainees Committee Junior representative Felicity Jones, to promote the specialty, has over 700 followers, creating a community promoting discussion, articles and learning aimed at undergraduates and postgraduates interested in geriatrics. This is welcomed, given the need to promote our specialty and influence training within geriatrics from undergraduate level upwards.
  • Increasing understanding of the ‘Geriatric Giants’: Most universities have case-based e-learning via twitter. For example, University College London (@quclms) has tackled some key ‘geriatric giants’ with cases on falls and delirium and AEME (@ElderlyMedEd) has developed bite-sized geriatric e-learning modules (Mini-GEMs) covering many of these issues. In Dundee, this year we are using twitter and our @DundeeAgeing to enhance learning opportunities for undergraduates during their Ageing curriculum block. These are invaluable ways of increasing understanding of core geriatric issues by using social media.
  • Continuing professional development in geriatrics: What about keeping up to date with the latest information or journals? Twitter can make this easier – with one click you can link to the latest article. Age and Ageing (@Age_and_Ageing) tweets all new articles and social media is a great way to promote medical research dissemination and collaboration.
  • Sharing knowledge within geriatrics: Like one big global MDT, the people interested in geriatrics on twitter discuss topical issues and share knowledge/ideas. The impact on this can be noted by the success of many conferences in geriatrics. A great example of this is the Spring BGS conference in Manchester reaching over 1.8 million users on twitter. The RCPE symposium on Ethics and care of older people approaching end of life reached over 770,000 users and was still being discussed worldwide the following day on twitter8. No conference, confined to four walls can produce the impact of instant updates and discussion via twitter with a worldwide audience.
  • Changing policy and highlighting the needs of older people: Recognising the needs of older people and changing attitudes involves more than interacting with healthcare professionals alone. The BGS and Age UK are particularly good at using social media to highlight important policies and the needs of older people. Social media ensures the message is seen by many. Quality improvement for older people via social media has also been successful. Great examples of this are from the BGS (@Gerisoc), The King’s Fund (@TheKingsFund) and Older People in Acute Care Improvement Programme (@opachis). By highlighting issues, linking to key documents, and promoting key programmes such as ‘Think Delirium’ and ‘Fit for Frailty’ the impact is far greater.

What about the negative aspects? This is something many worry about initially. The negative aspects are often focused on rather than the positives. Largely, it’s all about commonsense and professionalism. Whatever we say or write as a doctor, by whatever means of communication, should be anonymous, not identifiable and respectful. There is also guidance from the GMC and BMA.

What next? If you are already on twitter or want to learn more we plan to have a ‘tweet-up’ (a meet-up) at the next BGS Autumn Meeting. So if you’re a pro or just curious, do join us in October!

Get involved and follow the event hashtag #BGSconf during the BGS Autumn Meeting, 15-17th October

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