Doctor using laptop at home office to engage on social media

Responsible Use of Social Media for Oncologists

Social media for oncologists has 2 sides, as the lines between the doctor and the individual are sometimes blurred. On the positive side, social media platforms provide a place for oncologists, patients with cancer, and their caregivers to share content and experiences. Conversely, distortion of facts on social media can have devastating consequences for patients who inadvertently share health data with people they do not know or who are unqualified, or for those who use it to access alternative treatments that are not supported by reliable scientific evidence.

In a recent editorial, The Lancet Oncology suggested that the ability to promote their work is one key benefit of social media for oncologists when it is used to foster broader collaboration and knowledge-sharing. However, they also suggest that transparency around conflicts of interest and privacy should be clearly regulated and declared in social media activities. As with the general public, there are clinicians who behave inappropriately on social media, with posts regarding alcohol, fast food, endorsements of polemic political opinion, or sexually suggestive content—as well as trolling. This behavior should not be tolerated. To maintain the integrity of oncologists in social media platforms, clinicians must be careful to share their knowledge in an appropriate manner.

High level
Social media is here to stay, and we must learn to embrace it. Behind the protection of a screen, it is easy to feel safely hidden, which can lead to inappropriate behaviors. Proper education and support should be provided to increase appropriate use of social media for oncologists, such as that produced by the Collaboration for Outcomes using Social Media in Oncology, an association that explores the benefits of social media and provides education to oncologists on appropriate use. Organizations might also consider introducing regulations that will curb misinformation and abuse.

Ground level
Social media can be very helpful for listening to and understanding the experiences and expectations of patients. But behind the protection of a screen, it is easy to feel securely concealed, and this can lead to inappropriate behaviors. If clinicians implement the same values on social media that they would in their practice—such as trust, truthfulness, transparency, responsibility, and kindness—they might fully realize the benefits of social media for oncologists.