Healthcare Blog of Dr. Remo Aguilar

Social Media Concepts for HealthCare Professionals

in Physician/Social Media by

(The #HealthXPh team was invited to speak on the topic “Leading in Social Media” at the 45th Philippine College of Physicians Annual Convention at the Grand Ballroom of Marriott Hotel in Manila. I was with with Dr. Narciso Tapia in the first panel to talk about Medical Professionalism in Social Media , while Dr. Iris Isip Tan and Dr. Helen Madamba boot-camped the audience on #HealthXPh and tweetchat.   Dr. Gia Sison moderated both sessions. H/T to a great #HealthXPh team! ) 

I talked about medical professionalism in social media before but this time will be unlike anything I’ve said before.  A year into evangelising social media and medical professionalism, I observed misconceptions that hindered physicians  from embracing a well meaning policy and guideline about social media. Take note that these are my personal observations, and all my thoughts are usually from experiences, deep into the “trenches” of engaging healthcare professionals and patients, and sometimes backed up by scientific studies available.  Before our biggest problem was internet and social media penetration among healthcare professionals in the Philippines. Today, with the proliferation of mobile smartphones and expanding internet connectivity, the biggest hindrance I think are misconceptions about social media.

I will step back a bit, dive into some basic concepts in social media and leave the medical professionalism proper to my colleague, Dr. Tapia.  I felt we cannot just put forward any social media policy without healthcare professionals understanding concepts basic to social media and how it relates to us, humans. (I discussed the first two concepts in my previous post, here .)

Social media conversations are human conversations.
Many still believe social media engagements are NOT actually human conversations. That social media post are just rants, to private spaces, to a dissociated digital self,  is not quite true. Consider the messages you sent to your love ones, or the greetings you posted on your friends timeline and even the rallying videos posted to jumpstart the Arab Spring.  Do you think those are just rants to a digital self?

Whether you like it or not, at the other end of that social media space are human beings. Social media conversations are human conversations. The rules of engagement is similar to a person-to-person communication, albeit on a different platform. Social media has made it possible for connected others to “listen” to those conversations. The lack of context across this communication channel seem a challenge, but again humans have edged out these barriers before- telephone conversations, emails and even on SMS. That’s what makes it both exciting and challenging.

Offline self is not my online self.

One common misconception about social media is the assumed dissociation  between the offline and online self. That with social media, the online persona can be built or manipulated to be different from the offline self.  Well, here’s to prove that’s not entirely true. A University of Texas study found out that what Facebook users “project” online are merely reflections of their offline self! Researchers examined the “big five personality traits – openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism” and “self-reported Facebook-related behaviours.” and found a number of links between observable information on Facebook profiles and the users’ actual personalities. The study concluded that they didn’t see any difference in the online and offline behaviour of these Facebook users.

Another study among job applicants with Facebook accounts, found the same conclusion. No difference.

These studies showed online social networks are not an escape from reality, but rather a microcosm of peoples’ larger social worlds and an extension of offline behaviours. The trickiest of these concepts of course is social media privacy.

Social Media Privacy

Let me begin by saying Social media is an anti thema to privacy. Social media by design encourages sharing of personal information. If you look closely, the success of social media platform is gauged at how successful  it is in cajoling consumers to share personal information. Information that form basis of their business model. The more we share personal information-location, likes, curate our news feed, the better for their consumer driven online businesses. I’m not saying this business model bad, I just want to point out that social media privacy settings are never entirely private. This is what healthcare professionals should be aware of. The ease of sharing information online also increases the likelihood of leaking information and compromise privacy. If you take note at the evolving social media platforms, the privacy settings gets more complex with less and less data secured. Ever wondered how your newsfeed is “curated” to tailor fit your likes? Or how those pop up ads seem nearer to your “liking”? Again, if you think your social media post are private, you should think again. 

Sharing information between people creates communities. That’s a good thing. But it also erases privacy and personal boundaries. In highly regulated industries like healthcare, breaches of patient privacy and confidentiality, have far more damaging effects for both the healthcare professional and their patients!

To think that social media privacy settings are protecting your information, securely 24/7, is like letting a hungry wolf guard your sheep. Social media platforms wants our personal information simply because it is where it derive its revenues. It is what sustains the platform. Thats not entirely a bad business idea, but in healthcare industry, we should be very careful about any of our social media post.

These three aforementioned concepts are important in formalizing our behaviour, as healthcare professionals, on social media. Privacy in this digital age, is but an idea, a context within a bigger public space. Social media post are never entirely private, but you have the power to minimize information leaks especially if you are a healthcare professional.  Your online self is just a reflection of your offline self. The doctor offline is the same doctor online. The public will always perceive it as such. Lastly, social media conversations are human conversations. Minus the context, it has the attributes of human conversations on a digital platform.

These are realities. Let’s deal with it. By understanding these three concepts, we are at least ready to consider any medical professionalism policy on social media.  I highly encourage everyone to read and support our social media manifesto here. 

The #HealthXPh Social Media Medical Professionalism Manifesto
The #HealthXPh Social Media Medical Professionalism Manifesto

Here’s a very interesting take on social media and medical professionalism by #HealthXPh co founder Dr. Iris Isip Tan on slideshare.

(H/T to Dr. Iris Isip Tan and Dr. Gia Sison for live tweeting my speech,  Dr. Tapia and Dr. Madamba for the very informative panel discussions)


Samuel D. Gosling, Adam A Augustine, Simine Vazire, Nicholas Holtzman, and Sam Gaddis. Manifestations of Personality in Online Social Networks: Self-Reported Facebook-Related Behaviors and Observable Profile Information; Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. September 2011, 14(9): 483-488. doi:10.1089/cyber.2010.0087.

Dr. Remo-tito Aguilar co-founded #HealthXPh. A board certified orthopedic surgeon, he is Chief of Clinics at General Santos Medical Center and Medical Specialist II Orthopedics at the Southern Philippines Medical Center in Davao City. Dr. Aguilar is a healthcare social media evangelist and writes his medical musings at The Cast & Curious (

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