Urologists tread slowly into social networking waters

May 1, 2011

Some urologists have started experimenting with social media due to patient demand. Others are taking a wait-and-see approach while weighing the benefits and possible drawbacks.

Urology Times wanted to know about practicing urologists' experience with social media. We asked urologists around the country if they use these sites and, if so, how. Some of the urologists we interviewed have started experimenting with social media due to patient demand. Others are taking a wait-and-see approach while weighing the benefits and possible drawbacks.

Frank W. Jevnikar, MD, of Mentor, OH, is president of the Lake County Medical Society, which recently heard a talk from a company that helps physicians set up Facebook pages.

"I go back and forth, depending on the weather and the day, about whether I should open up a Facebook page. My apprehension is that it would open an avenue for patients to contact me on a level that may not always be appropriate."

A practitioner for eight years, Dr. Jevnikar says his lack of familiarity with social media may influence his bias.

"My oldest child is 12, so we haven't been hit with all of that yet. It's a medium I don't completely understand. I'm not completely comfortable with it, so I guess I've been trying to avoid it."

Then, on the days he considers getting involved, "I think about the fact that it's obviously more than a fad, and younger people are using it."

"I don't spend a lot of time figuring ways to get information out because it still works by word of mouth in our community," he said.

That isn't the case just in smaller communities like Mentor. Steven M. Tillem, MD, has been practicing in Astoria, NY, a neighborhood of Queens, for 13 years. He hasn't yet seen a need to sign on to social media.

"Despite the prevalence of social media, I'm not sure how it would help my practice," Dr. Tillem said. "My particular patient population is not very technologically savvy, so while it might work with some of my younger patients, my older patients are not ready to communicate in that way.

"I'm also concerned about communicating through social media, because the give and take is a little difficult. There are also HIPAA concerns. I don't want patients letting me know symptoms online-that's hard enough on a phone call. I feel it's very difficult to diagnose and treat patients online."

Dr. Tillem, a clinical instructor at Weill Cornell Medical College, is also concerned about adding another task to the workload.

"The truth is this is something else that could be time consuming," he said. "Is it something I have to monitor or regulate? Does it save time, or does it take more time?

"We have a lot on our plate now, including putting together our EMR system. It may be that social media will dovetail with EMR once we get that up and running."