Social media is a two-way street

In addition to the myriad ways health organizations have found to use social media to inform and engage patients, platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube also offer physicians valuable opportunities to learn and improve the way they practice.

For instance, obstetrician Jeff Livingston frequently uses the Facebook and Twitter pages for his practice, MacArthur OBGYN, to answer patients' general health questions, such as what foods are safe to eat during pregnancy and how soon parents can learn a baby's gender. But one of his most powerful experiences with digital media, he told CBS News, occurred when he asked his readers and followers who'd suffered miscarriages how they'd coped with the loss and what they'd wanted to hear from their doctors.

"We had 15 comments from patients, real patients, who told their stories," Livingston said. "You can see where the patients are learning from each other, but as a doctor, I got better."

Doctors also can learn via social media from other doctors. For example, a story from American Medical News describes how a physician posted a video on YouTube discussing the process of adopting an electronic health record system, including what aspects of the change made him nervous at first and how the technology benefited his practice in the long run. While the video likely drew the indirect benefit of touting the practice's technological advances to patients, it made for an instructive tool for physicians to watch and share among one another, said Ralph Henderson, president of health care staffing for AMN Healthcare.

In addition, healthcare professionals looking for jobs can get a strong sense of whether a practice is a good fit for them by watching videos posted by potential employers, amednews noted.

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