The Association for Healthcare Social Media (AHSM) is a professional society devoted to the use of social media by healthcare professionals. The multispecialty and multidisciplinary AHSM assists health professionals in utilizing social media platforms to serve as disseminators of accurate health information while doing so responsibly. AHSM members include many of the virtual physicians and nurses of TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube who are disseminating important healthcare-related information to their audiences.
We spoke with Austin Chiang, MD, MPH, a founding member of the AHSM and the chief medical social media officer at Jefferson Health, in Philadelphia about AHSM and the role of social media is playing in disseminating health information.
Hi Dr. Chiang, would you mind telling us a bit more about yourself?
Sure! I am a gastroenterology and advanced/bariatric endoscopist by training and currently am an assistant professor of medicine, director of the endoscopic bariatric program, and chief medical social media officer at Jefferson Health in Philadelphia. I completed my undergraduate studies at Duke University, medical school at Columbia University, and internal medicine residency at Columbia, New York Presbyterian Hospital, as well. Thereafter, my gastroenterology and bariatric endoscopy training was completed at Brigham and Women's Hospital, and I received a master's in public health at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. My final fellowship was completed at Jefferson, where I stayed on as faculty.
You sound busy! And you are a founding members of AHSM - how did that get started?
Well, after years of being on social media, many of my colleagues, mainly physicians on Instagram, started noticing concerning trends of people misrepresenting themselves as a health experts without the requisite training. This led to the #verifyhealthcare hashtag campaign, that brought the founders together and led us to consider many other concerning observations we had of health professionals on social media. We were also eager to share with other health professionals how many of us had managed to reach larger audiences by using social media productively.
What does AHSM do?
While many of us are driven by our desire to put forth accurate health information on social media, we are most passionate about helping health professionals use social media effectively and responsibly to meet patients where they are. Without an increased professional presence on social media, misinformation can be easily perpetuated and audiences misled. However, getting health professionals online also requires guidance and incentives. Social media is rapidly evolving and can be time consuming. We therefore felt the need to create a 501(c)(3) professional society to help legitimize social media in health and collaborate with institutions and organizations. In our inaugural year we held a two-day conference, had a co-branded course with YouTube about how to optimize one's experience on the platform, and worked with Cochrane on World Evidence-Based Healthcare Day!
You have 55.4K followers on Instagram and 316.3K on TikTok. But not everyone is convinced that social media is a great way to disseminate health evidence because it’s a ‘serious and complex’ topic. What do you think about this?
People of all age groups are spending more time than ever before on social media. The average time per day exceeds two hours per day on social media. Individuals and advertisers across sectors have capitalized on this usage to promote their services and products. Especially during the pandemic, there has been growing attention in health. Social media is not only a great way to distribute health knowledge, it is absolutely imperative in 2020. "Serious and complex" topics can impact everyone, and without trained individuals to interpret that information, medical misinformation could wreak havoc.
It's been helpful to get a bit of 'social media star' power behind Cochrane with your member's posts. How has it been working closely with Cochrane?
It's been great! Our AHSM members know Cochrane as the ‘gold standard’ in consolidating health evidence through systematic reviews and it's been exciting to share Cochrane evidence and evidence-based medicine principles directly with our lay audience. With the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone is looking for health information online. With additional time spent on social media channels, there is also greater exposure to misinformation and misrepresentation of evidence online. Our members are health professionals that are provided with the tools and training to share health evidence on social media and actively work towards fighting misinformation. The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of educating our audiences about evidence based healthcare and the high quality evidence that Cochrane provides.
What’s your advice to med students, clinicians and researchers, and scientists in healthcare that are thinking about using social media?
Take it a step at a time. It's ok to observe and reach out to people who you look up to for advice on social media. People who are active on social media are used to putting themselves out there and helping colleagues out. Also, think about your purpose and what you're hoping to achieve. This really dictates which platform is most suitable and what approach to take.
That's great advice. What do you think the benefits are to the creator and to the audience?
The benefits are numerous to both. For the creator, you access the latest information in real time, you build valuable networks, build practices, and participate in riveting conversations. For the audience it may be knowledge and access to health professionals you otherwise might not have had, and opportunities to learn about treatments and trials that would otherwise remain unknown.
We have an 'Early Career Professionals Cochrane Group' who have been especially keen on using social media. How do you think early career professionals can leverage social media?
It depends on how early is early. I think we all develop a different comfort level of when we decide we are "qualified" to educate and discuss about topics online. I think no matter what stage someone is at, there is value. Pre-med and medical students share important perspectives that can inspire those aspiring students behind them, while informing those more senior to them.
Thanks for speaking with us, Dr. Chiang!
If you would like to learn more about AHSM:
If you would like to learn more about social media at Cochrane:
- Free webinar: Leverage Social Media, 18 November
- Get social with Cochrane!
- Cochrane Training social media resources