September 22, 2022
3 min read
Cawcutt K. Social media and healthcare. Presented at: Women in Medicine Summit; Sept. 15-17, 2022; Chicago.
Cawcutt reports no relevant financial disclosures.
During this year’s Women in Medicine Summit, Kelly Cawcutt, MD, MS, discussed the importance of properly using social media to network, promote accurate information and engage with patients looking for support.
“Ethically, I believe that we are called to bring truth, expert science and information to the public where patients are,” said Cawcutt, an infectious disease physician and codirector of digital innovation and social media strategy at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, said. “They are not reading the New England Journal of Medicine; they are not watching the news; they are on social media.”
“If we want to advocate for better health in our local areas, or regions, in the country, in the world, we have to be where the public and our patients are,” she said.
According to Cawcutt, 50% of the world’s population — a number she says is rising very rapidly — is on at least one social media platform; 70% of Americans have an account and access it; and about 70% of physicians use social media.
Cawcutt herself is an avid social media user. In her personal life, she stays connected with family through her Facebook account, whereas professionally, she uses Twitter, which she said “by literature is the premier social media, professional network.”
Recently, she even used Twitter for medical research after her son, a young athlete, was diagnosed with Sever’s disease.
Her Twitter account is not a one-sided research mechanism; however. Cawcutt said she also posts content that is important to her there.
“I meet colleagues there. I share my research there. I try to sponsor other people on social media to share their expertise and their brilliance and to get their voices out there,” she said.
She admitted, however, that during peak-COVID-19 times, she needed to step away because the misinformation and general attitude toward clinicians and infectious diseases experts became too much.
“COVID has really put a damper on a lot of things that I do personally social media-wise and ID-wise,” she said. “All of my time was funneled into our organization social media accounts and educating the public on platforms for other people, to our national societies, to the local media, to the rural media, to the radio stations, to CNN.”
She continued, “But I had to be in that space and I had to leverage what I could to bring the voices forward, talking about the pandemic and health care, and disparities, and myth busting things about the vaccines.”
Unfortunately, this came with a price for Cawcutt because strangers and family members alike questioned her when rumors of doctors lying in death certificates to boost COVID-19 counts began circulating. She also admitted to receiving death threats, being called a liar and fighting against sexism in comments and private messages.
“Health care and social media is a huge area that we need to be very cautious of but that we need to be in because otherwise, what’s out there is not always accurate information,” she said.
In spite of this, Cawcutt said social media is a crucial platform for clinical care, helping patients understand their illnesses and what types of physical therapy would be beneficial or parents determine what can get their child back on the basketball court or soccer field. It can increase patient advocacy, advocate for women’s reproductive rights and push agendas forward to help ensure access to care is equitable and available. It can also be the means to combat misinformation.
Cawcutt said that too much information, including false or misleading information, in digital and physical environments during a disease outbreak is an epidemic in and of itself, causing confusion and risk-taking behaviors.
“These are the people who are swallowing bleach. These are the deaths from overdoses of ivermectin. These are the people using fish tank supplies thinking it will cure them of COVID-19 because it was on social media,” she said.
“It undermines expertise … it undermines public health … and it moves fast.”
Cawcutt said if this is the stuff patients are seeing, experts need to have a voice “at the same virtual table” that they are at, sharing reputable information and teaching them how to get the right information and where to look for it in language they understand.
Although having this social media presence is important, Cawcutt urges other health care professionals to know their limits.
“In the midst of the first stages of the COVID pandemic, I was a frontline ICU doctor asked to not take any days off for 6 months — not because I couldn’t, but because we were so short staffed,” she said. “I was off social media for months because I could not handle the misinformation. I could not handle another day seeing the death tolls because I was watching it live and it was too much.”
“It took me a while to come back on social media, but I did, and I recognize those limits. I urge you all to know those limits, to log off and enjoy the weather if you need to and know those limits.”