It’s hard for future surgeons in the aesthetic space to ignore the power of social media to reach potential patients. Studies suggest that 65% of Americans and 90% of young adults use social media. But while there are guidelines to help the experienced surgeon to navigate social media according to professional standards, there’s little information about unique considerations for social media use among residents, according to a paper published May 2019 in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.
The paper’s authors make specific recommendations for using social media during plastic surgery training and after residency graduation.
Among their suggestions:
1. Avoid Deception
Trainees and experienced plastic surgeons alike can refer to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons Code of Ethics, which describes what members might do that would put them at risk for disciplinary action including:
“…if the member uses, participates in, or promotes the use of any public communication or private communication containing photographs, images, or facsimiles of persons (1) who have received the services advertised, but who have experienced results that are not typical of the results obtained by the average patient, without clearly and noticeably disclosing that fact; (2) before and after receiving services, which use different light, poses, or photographic techniques to misrepresent the results achieved by the individual; and (3) that falsely or deceptively portray a physical or medical condition, injury, disease, including obesity, or recovery of relief therefrom,” according to the Code of Ethics.
2. Offer the Right to Refuse
Ethical practice for video sharing should involve not only asking the patient for video consent, but also making it clear that the patient has a right to refuse, according to one study reviewing plastic surgery social media ethics.
3. Separate Personal & Professional
Trainees shouldn’t use their personal social media pages for professional use. Rather, they should have separate personal and professional accounts, according to the paper.
4. Choose Wisely
Managing more than two professional social media accounts can be overwhelming, so carefully choose which platforms make the most sense for reaching your target audience.
5. Publish What Patients Want
Publish content that patients want. The authors cite a study that suggests patients prefer a variety of posts on plastic surgeons’ social media feeds, including practice information, before-and-after photographs, casual photographs, treatment videos and the doctor’s blog.
Here’s where there’s a caveat for trainees. “Although the attending physician may choose to post patient images, which the resident can like or share, creating original posts with those same images may be legally problematic for trainees,” the authors write.
In a video commentary on the paper, East Brunswick, N.J., plastic surgeon Smita R. Ramanadham, M.D., says: “Due to consent issues, the authors recommend avoiding this content altogether and perhaps rather reposting or sharing content that your attending surgeon has already posted.”
6. Embrace & Educate
Use hashtags, like #PlasticSurgery, to facilitate public education.
“Social media is a way of life and it’s not going anywhere. Rather let’s embrace it and use it to educate our patients. We need to have a voice on social media that’s louder than anyone else out there that’s posting on plastic surgery that don’t have the expertise that we have. There’s no better way to do this than to start early in your careers,” Dr. Ramanadham says.