Social Media Presence and Patient Care

Social Media Presence and Patient Care

Anne Katz, PhD, RN, FAAN

Jun 03, 2021

Full disclosure: I am not famous but I do have a social media presence, albeit a very minor one. I do not “do” TikTok, but I have a Facebook page (mostly to keep on top of family and friends’ birthdays), an Instagram account (mostly images of food), and I try to keep my Twitter posts professional (although I used to use that account to complain about or compliment the airlines that I flew on, pre-COVID). But my patients—and even some who are not my patients, but attend the clinic where I work—in recent times have apparently been Googling me.

I first noticed this a couple of months ago when an elderly gentleman stopped me in the hallway.

“Hey, you’re Dr. Katz!” he exclaimed loudly enough that one of my colleagues stopped registering a patient at the clinic reception and looked at me with a smile on his face.

“I am…” I answered, searching in my memory if I had met this man before. His mask, covering most of his face, did not help.

“I’m sorry, sir, but have I seen you before? I’m really bad at recognizing faces.” (This was a white lie as I have a good visual memory but zero memory for names.)

“Oh no, I haven’t seen you as a patient, I just recognized you from the internet!”

I was not sure what to do with the information. Why was he looking at my social media—and what should I say next?

“Well, nice to meet you too,” was my only response. I excused myself and hurried back to my office.

Then there are the people who self-refer to me for an appointment. I always ask how they heard about me, and more and more frequently they say that they saw me on the internet. I don’t ask about details of exactly where they saw me on the internet. Years ago our son, a very social media-savvy young adult, encouraged me to create my own website. He assured me that it was in my best interest, as a way of calling attention to my books, and incidentally where I post these blogs for ASCO Connection. I do not spend anywhere near enough time updating said website ( Occasionally I consider hiring a teenager to do it, but then I remind myself that I am not famous, so what’s the point?

A couple of weeks ago, after an hour-long discussion with a patient on the phone (no in-person visits, thanks to COVID), he informed me that he had “checked me out” on the internet and he wanted me to know that he agreed that I was an expert in my field, and that he was glad that he had talked to me. I wasn’t sure what to do with that seal of approval, so I thanked him and was left wondering what he would have said if he felt I had failed him in some way.

And last week a patient told me that he had found some videos I had filmed and that he had watched them and they were very helpful. I thanked him and then was left trying to remember which videos they were, where they were filmed, and how long ago. I certainly remember doing interviews at a variety of conferences where I had spoken, but have no memory of what I talked about, other than the general area of sexuality during and after cancer, and frankly, I was too embarrassed to go and look for them. I just hope that the videos he saw contained information that was still relevant.

There are times when this recognition from strangers feels a little creepy. But there are certainly really good reasons to maintain a social media presence, as my colleagues Dr. Don Dizon (@drdonsdizon) and Dr. Mark Lewis (@marklewismd) do so well. The internet can be a way of educating other professionals and the public about cancer, its treatments, and survivorship, among other topics. In this way we can counteract some of the misinformation that is confusing at best and dangerous at worst to the public.

I have to admit that being recognized by people on the street and in the grocery store can make me feel a little special while at the same time embarrassed and awkward. The latter two emotions are a good reminder to always be professional, evidence-based in communicating in 140 letters, and also to be humble while accepting compliments from those we may have helped, even a little. 


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