On Friday, I spoke at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, along with Kevin Pho, MD. During a planning call, the symposium organizers had shared results from a faculty survey: Fully two-thirds do not use social tools on a regular basis. Asking them, therefore, to spend a half-day learning about social media was a pretty bold request.

Inspired by Kathy Sierra to focus on the users’ (that is, the audience’s) needs, I began with a question that many busy clinicians might be asking:

How do we know that social media is important to health care?

Why should they take anyone’s word for it? Where is the evidence?

My slides contain all the data I gathered, with a special focus on low-income, low-literacy, and immigrant populations since we were at a hospital serving the Bronx. If you download the file, you can see the resources and studies I link to in the notes section for each slide.

A few highlights:

1) The Pew Research Center, where I work, collects survey data to hold a mirror up to society and to provide a window into people’s lives. I collect “vanguard data” in the form of stories, like this one, about two moms who connected on Facebook and prevented the overtreatment of a child.

2) Text messaging counts as a social tool. And there is evidence that it works as a health tool.

3) Video is a viable option for health education, particularly among low-literacy populations.

4) Clinicians are still central to most people’s health care decision-making. And most of the conversation and care happens offline. There is still plenty of time for clinicians to join in the social media revolution.

I put together a Storify of the tweets related to the two keynotes:

Social media’s use in medicine

And finally:

I began the talk with a question and ended with an answer, of sorts, in the same form as Michael Pollan‘s 7-word wisdom about nutrition:

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

My version, for these clinicians facing down choices about social media engagement, was as follows:

Listen in. Share your wisdom. Encourage others.

My first draft ended with “Welcome change” but I decided it was better advice to encourage others to join them, which could be interpreted as other colleagues, their students, or even their patients. So I was delighted when Kevin included this Charles Darwin quote in his remarks:

“It is not the strongest of a species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”

What do you think? Are you convinced? What other evidence do we need to collect? What would be your advice to clinicians — or others — who are just starting out in health care social media?

Join the conversation on susannahfox.com.