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How to reap benefits of social media without compromising well-being

April 1, 2023

About 70% of adults use social media, according to the Pew Research Center. Among them are pediatricians who use social media tools for professional and personal reasons.

Therefore, social media’s positive and negative impacts on physician well-being cannot be ignored.

The good

Clinicians use blogs, podcasts and multimedia-sharing sites to educate their patients and themselves. For example, a variety of platforms are available to engage physicians in continuing medical education. Some clinicians use social media for personal branding, to network with colleagues, collaborate on research, and build equity, diversity and inclusion. A large, diverse audience can be reached to disseminate clinical and nonclinical information.

Social media also allows clinicians to stay connected with friends and family.

Positive aspects extend to patients, who search social media to find information about their disease, other people’s experiences and treatments. Being part of a supportive group can empower patients, improve their adherence to a physician’s proposed treatment plan and increase communication with their physician.

The bad

On the other hand, patients may find information that is not evidence based or is inaccurate, which can harm the patient-physician relationship. For example, patients may read negative online reviews about their health care provider, which may prompt them to switch providers, regardless of whether the reviews are accurate.

In addition, it can be challenging for physicians in a busy clinical setting to address health advice patients find on social media that is not evidence-based.

Physicians can counter misinformation by posting evidence-based information. However, creating a blog or video or writing a post requires time for research, reflection and composing. The time spent on social media can be at the expense of social events with family or friends, exercising or other commitments.

Physicians also may be wary of posting information due to fear about maintaining a patient’s confidentiality or of hospital retribution for violating privacy.

Negative effects on mental health are another consequence of using social media. Some physicians measure their credibility by number of followers rather than their clinical expertise or experiences. Comments and “likes” can cause clinicians to compare themselves, while negative comments may be perceived as abusive or intimidating.

Constantly scrolling and checking posts can lead to distraction and interfere with work. When seeing posts of others’ vacations or social events, some physicians may experience jealousy, anxiety, exclusion or loneliness.

Social media can disrupt sleep, leading to poor academic or work performance, emotional exhaustion, ambivalence, depersonalization or physical ailments such as memory loss, headaches, muscle tension, depression or anxiety (Perlis RH, et al. JAMA Netw Open. 2021;4:e2136113).

Tips for social media use

While pediatricians may not want to avoid all social media, the following guidance can help ensure it is a positive, healthy experience:

  • Decrease social media time, and stop using electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime to optimize sleep.
  • Practice self-awareness of feelings of jealousy, loneliness or self-comparisons when looking at social media. For example, if looking at Instagram makes you feel bad, don’t do it.
  • Prioritize self-care activities such as exercise, sleep, eating healthy foods and mindfulness.
  • Find sites that are motivational or inspirational, or pick a limited number of sites for professional networking and education.
  • Abstain periodically from social media, which has been shown to decrease anxiety and depression (Turel O, et al. Psychiatry Res. 2018;270:947-953).

Dr. Barr is chair of the AAP Section on Medicine-Pediatrics Executive Committee.


Professional organizations and resources are available to help clinicians address anxiety, depression and burnout:

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