Colorectal Surgeons and Social Media: A Q&A with Dr. Steven Wexner

New communication channels aiding patient care, research

With more than two billion people using social media to create, disseminate and exchange ideas, the medical community is exploring ways to take advantage of these contemporary forms of communication.  Colorectal surgeons have jumped on the bandwagon and embraced the free, instant, borderless communication afforded by such social media sites as Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and YouTube to advance clinical practice, training, research and patient care.

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In anticipation of a highly acclaimed session on social media use in colorectal surgery at the 2016 European Society of Coloproctology (ESCP) meeting in Milan, Cleveland Clinic Florida colorectal surgeon and social media session chair Steven D. Wexner, MD, PhD, initiated a collaboration among the presenters to disseminate the information to a wider audience through print. Dr. Wexner and his panelists introduced themselves to each other through Twitter messages, followed by an email address exchange. Dr. Wexner invited the presenters to coauthor a manuscript about social media for colorectal surgeons, which was appropriately published in Colorectal Disease. The paper was coauthored by colleagues from England, Ireland and Spain, who had become acquainted with each other exclusively through social media channels.
We spoke with Dr. Wexner about his experience with social media to obtain pearls that other colorectal surgeons might find useful.

Q: First, tell us what role social media played in bringing you and your coauthors together.

A: In 2015, Julio Mayol from Madrid introduced himself to me at the ESCP meeting in Dublin, noting that he had been following me on Twitter and LinkedIn. I met three of my four coauthors, Richard Brady from Manchester, England, Ed Fitzgerald from London, and Marie Ennis O’Connor from Dublin, in person for the first time at ESCP a few minutes prior to the 2016 social media session.

Q: How can social media be useful to colorectal surgeons?

A: As we explain in the article, social media allows potentially substantial advances to be made in global surgical education, robust academic debate and dissemination of novel techniques and research. It opens up communication between physicians, between physicians and patients and between physicians and professional organizations and disease-specific charitable groups. It is useful in alerting members to events and courses and encouraging online research and social collaborations.

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Q: How do you use social media?

A: I primarily use LinkedIn and Twitter. I post twice a week on LinkedIn and read what my colleagues post. I use Twitter for daily communication. I generally post links to articles I think they will find useful, credit the writer and add a short comment.

Q: Tweets are so short. Why do you think Twitter is so popular?

A: Twitter is the only available platform of its kind, so you have to abide by their preset character limit. There are tricks around it. You can use Bitly to condense your links, or you can quote your own tweet and add to it. On the other hand, the short format makes you marshal your thoughts to succinctly deliver your point. Because it’s brief, people look at it. It’s much easier to decide to read a journal article recommended in a tweet, rather than looking through a table of contents. The articles recommended by colleagues are usually salient, and all I have to do is click on the direct link to read it. I receive an increasing amount of my surgical news that way.

Q: Have you identified social media uses that have not been fully explored?

A: We could expand the use of social media to increase patient awareness about colorectal diseases and treatments. And we could possibly do a better job translating scientific verbiage into more understandable lay language for patients.

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Q: What’s the take-home message about social media for your colorectal colleagues?

A: As with all advances and innovations, some people are early adopters of social media, and others are never-adopters. Most surgeons are in the middle of the adoption curve. Anybody who is not using it should try it to see if they find it useful. You could start by joining LinkedIn or signing up for Twitter and following your professional society: ACPGBI or FASCRS, for example. It’s a way to efficiently optimize the idea exchange. When you are waiting for your next case to start, or are on hold on a telephone call, you can click on a social media site, learn something and share your thoughts. You might be surprised at how easy it is.