S&R Blog

New study reveals 77.5% of physicians use social media professionally

This blog is full of information about social media, including SmartPhone apps, Twitter, and others, and S&R decided to take this topic to the physicians to find out their thoughts on social media.

The S&R Communications Group Social Media Survey was conducted on July 20, 2009, via SermoTM, an online community for physicians. The purpose of this survey was to gather information about the personal and professional use of social media by physicians. The survey was administered to 102 physicians and was directed at physicians in the specialty areas of family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, and psychiatry. The survey contained 18 questions on various topics that ranged from basic demographics to use of specific social media sites.

One of the most important pieces of information gathered with this survey was not a surprise: Some physicians do use social media professionally.

Who uses it?

Of the 79 respondents (77.5%) who reported using social media professionally, 72.2% were 25 to 35 years in age. (The other 27.8% were 36 to 55. No one over the age of 55 participated in this survey.)

How do they use it?

Like any other tactical tool, social media will not be effective for every physician or every situation. The majority of respondents reported using social media to connect with physicians within their specialty (87.3%), to connect with physicians outside of their specialty (64.6%), to connect with colleagues they trained with (54.4%), to connect with medical school alumni (53.2%), and to connect with key opinion leaders (21.5%).

Interestingly, only 2.5% reported using social media to connect with patients, which suggests that physicians do not see social media as a viable means of communicating with patients. Why is this?

Perhaps the answer lies in the benefits respondents see in or their reasons for using social media professionally. Because the majority of physicians see social media as a means of gaining professional information, it is reasonable to expect that very few respondents would use social media as a means of communicating with patients. Plus, respondents, even those who reported not using social media professionally, reported that the 2 largest downsides to using social media professionally were issues of privacy (69.6%) and legal concerns (52%). Other downsides included concerns over credibility, time requirements, the impersonal nature of social media, and incongruence with their ideals of being professional.

At the moment, physicians must be careful about interacting with patients via social media. However, social media presents the opportunity to satisfy the demand for more immediate information and to correct mistakes quickly. Doctors already use non–face-to-face methods like letters, phone calls, etc. It may only be a matter of time before social media falls into this same category.

What can we learn from this survey?

As the world of pharmaceutical advertising is changing, we have to change with it. This survey confirms what we already knew: Social media will play an important part in pharmaceutical advertising. This survey indicates that social media is a source for information for physicians, so we know that we have the opportunity to create a place where we can build relationships with physicians while rapidly providing education, information, and the ability to interact with KOLs and other physicians.

In fact, more than 50% of respondents reported that they would be in favor of additional social media designed for better professional interaction with patients and other healthcare professionals.

As they always have, physicians are turning to their colleagues for information, and you have a responsibility to your product to participate in this conversation and ensure that accurate, factual, and complete information is being presented to the physicians who are seeking out that information.

Contact Wayne Dunlap (wayned@srcomgroup.com) for a full report.


2 Comments so far
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Just a quick question about the research here. If the survey was done exclusively with Sermo users, and Sermo is a professional social network, aren’t 100% of respondents using social media professionally? Granted, talking to this group could yield important insight into social media use by HCPs. But, unfortunately, this survey told us what we should already know about social media use amongst physicians already using social media.

Comment by Jim Dayton


I think that rationale would be true if the physicians surveyed used SERMO as their only social media outlet. But as you can see by the results, that’s not true. Granted, SERMO is a professional social network, but it is a good case study for finding physicians who are active in social media and tapping into what they think about the medium and how they use it.

Comment by srcomblog

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