This study assessed social media usage in medicine by medical students in Turkey. We found that 93.4% of students used social media and 89.3% used social media for professional purposes. We also found that 95.3% used Facebook; the observed usage rates of Facebook, a social networking site whose use has been investigated in many studies, ranged from 13% to 47% among physicians and from 64% to 96% among students .
According to the results of our survey, students perceived social media to have numerous advantages, including inspiring creativity, facilitating professional development, communication with colleagues, knowledge acquisition, and improving the quality of care. An earlier study reported that 24.1% of physicians use social media on a daily basis to search for or explore medical information and 14% contribute to social media on a daily basis . Physicians and medical students commonly use Wikipedia to obtain medical information and specify ease of use as their reason for doing so [18,19]. Many physicians believe that the professional use of social media allows for beneficial information exchange and is useful in caring for patients . Furthermore, many indicated that it was expected that they would be available through social media as their patients were also social media users .
Patients also use social media to seek health information, especially patients with serious illnesses, as online resources are primarily for health professionals . Patients also use online sources for the selecting physicians and hospitals . Social media allows physicians to reach a large audience and can act to increase their popularity among colleagues and patients. Furthermore, it can enhance the professional reputation of physicians when used skillfully . In our study, medical students placed importance on the popularity factor, which was positively correlated with usefulness and personal innovativeness.
Our survey results indicated that students who had innovative features were more likely to be social media users. Today’s students, both medical and nonmedical, think and process information fundamentally differently from their predecessors. They represent the first generation to grow up with this new digital technology . However, as shown in the present study, the use of social media by students is also limited by the concern that it will take up too much time [17,19].
In our study, we found no negative effects with respect to ethical values, indicating that students are unaware of ethical issues. The findings of most concern in other studies on online professionalism are incidents of patient privacy violations . In one study, medical school deans reported that medical students had engaged in or posted the following content online: patient confidentiality violations, profanities, discriminatory language, depictions of intoxication, and sexually suggestive material . Medical students may not be aware of the negative effect that posting material online could have on their careers or on medical professionalism in general . Furthermore, such action could result in their peers and other physicians passing judgment on them . While medical students and doctors are entitled to a private personal life, online social media have challenged the concepts of “public” and “private”. Once information is online it is nearly impossible to remove and can quickly spread beyond one’s control .
Medical students are expected to develop the same professional ethics as doctors . Therefore, physicians’ associations and medical educators should prepare social media user guidelines for medical students as physicians. However, physicians and students are separated by a generation gap, and thus this is an area of medical education that needs to be specifically targeted .
Current medicine practices are being continuously improved as new technologies are developed and implemented. Social media has already transformed the communication sector and is now on its way to transforming healthcare. Social media provides significant opportunities for health professionals, while challenging the traditional core values of medicine (privacy, confidentiality, one-on-one interactions, and formal conduct). To ensure that such improvements continue, it is necessary for physicians to continue to include humanism, honesty, ethics, professionalism, and trust in basic medical values for enhanced and effective patient care [29,30].
Limitations of the study
This study has several limitations. First, this was a single-institution study. Therefore, it cannot be generalized to all medical students. Second, the use of social media in medicine was evaluated as a whole; therefore, other applications of social media have not been considered here.