Social media and health promotion: Doctors turn to the Internet to push personal health advocacies

health promotion

Not long ago, there was a man who was operated in a hospital. It was an unusual operation that got some practitioners involved chuckling and grinning and recording moments of the procedure. The video got viral, got the patient humiliated and got some of the healthcare professionals suspended.

Incidents like this can cause a nagging fear among doctors, nurses, medical technicians and their fellows when social media is presented as a tool for health promotion and when relentless white knights invite them to engage, to be active on social media.

“Whether doctors choose to engage in social media or not, they cannot ignore its implications,” said Dr. Pat Rich of the Canadian Medical Association during the Healthcare Social Media Summit 2015 last February in Cebu.

Healthcare Social Media Summit 2015 that carried the theme “Synergies in Social Media and Healthcare” was organized by #HealthXPh, a regular tweet chat by Dr. Remo-tito Aguilar, Dr. Ma. Gia Sison, Dr. Iris Thiele Isip Tan and Dr. Narciso Tapia.

health promotion

The numerous speakers with varying healthcare backgrounds during the very productive summit choose to be on social media and use it for their personal advocacies.

Some of them include Dr. Stef dela Cruz, an award-winning doctor-columnist-blogger; Maria Fatima Villena, owner of and volunteer for various health initiatives; Dr. Katherine Lei-Mercado of the Hepatology Society of the Philippines; and Dr. Richard Mata, a paediatrician who also happens to be a medical software programmer and a strong dengue advocate.

“When we share stories and articles on social media, many people will be encouraged to come out in the open and share their experiences.” -Dr. Stef dela Cruz

They see social media as beneficial for the health advocacies they promote. “It requires minimal budget. More people will recognize you for your good content. You can connect with other advocates, writers and healthcare professionals. And with more people in the know, the reach of your advocacy will expand,” said Villena.

Mata added that social media has been for him a great driver for collaboration, keeping in touch with people and organizations that help him push his advocacy forward.

For her part, Mercado pointed out that social media is a good entry point for doctors to trigger interest among the public by asking questions or providing information about issues close to their heart. When an advocacy is established, social media becomes more effective when paired with offline strategies, such as promoting and networking in conferences.

health promotion

(L-R, Top-Down) Dr. Stef dela Cruz, Maria Fatima Villena, Dr. Katherine Lei-Mercado, and Dr. Richard Mata compose the panel in one of the track sessions in the Healthcare Social Media Summit 2015, tackling social media and health promotion.

Inspired by her family, dela Cruz is using the Internet to help eliminate stigma attached to mental illnesses and the shame attached to sensitive issues like warts and premature ejaculation.

“When we share stories and articles on social media, many people will be encouraged to come out in the open and share their experiences. Just because there are trolls online does not mean you won’t be on social media,” she said, speaking from personal experience.

She also noted that there are people who are afraid of going to the clinics. With more doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals promoting health online whose huge population of users cannot be ignored, they are encouraging people to have themselves checked.

“Whether doctors choose to engage in social media or not, they cannot ignore its implications.” -Dr. Pat Rich

Villena who is not a doctor proves that one does not need to be a certified healthcare professional to be able to promote good health. As a health and fitness writer, she stands by her values of consistency, credibility and motivation as she reminds health practitioners to walk their talk and to treat people not as mere patients but as partners in their personal healthcare.

health promotion

Never for a moment think that doctors, nurses and their fellows are confined within the walls of their clinics, stations and rooms. Many of them are extending their positive impact and influence in health promotion through social media. Because this platform is a hive of good and bad content, the participants of the summit chose a proactive approach by signing a manifesto or a declaration of what #HealthXPh, an interest group, intends to do following the summit:

  1. I am a healthcare provider and I will conduct myself in a manner worthy of my profession, even online. I will not use online platforms to rant or bash patients and healthcare professionals.
  2. “First, do no harm.” Recognizing this and the trust that comes with my profession, I will ensure that the information I post, like or share is accurate.
  3. Whatever I post online in relation to my clinical expertise should be of benefit to my countrymen. I will prioritize the promotion and advancement of health rather than of medical products. I will not practice plagiarism.
  4. I will refrain from posting information online that will compromise patient confidentiality and privacy.
  5. I will value the patient’s dignity and privacy by not taking selfies, groufies or videos during encounters with patients that include patients’ body parts, surgical specimens or that show patients in the background without their consent.

With this, we can hope to see more advocacy-driven and responsible social media users for health promotion on the Internet landscape. #

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Nancy Cudis-Ucag

Learn. Then write.

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