New Healthcare Group Aims to Fight Social Media Misinformation

The Association for Healthcare Social Media, born from a campaign to get doctors to share their credentials on Instagram, wants to help equip medical professionals with social media best practices.

It’s easier than ever to run into junk science online, and that often leads to a lot of misinformation, particularly in the health field.

But a new group hopes to ensure the public knows where to go for verifiable info.

The Association for Healthcare Social Media (AHSM), a newly formed 501(c)(3) nonprofit group, hopes to help clear the air on the public health front. The group is led by Austin Chiang, a Harvard-trained gastroenterologist who, fittingly, has a large social media following. His Instagram and Twitter accounts are generally quite full of public health messages.

But as he noted to CNBC, many medical officials shy away from using social media in this way, which is problematic given that there’s a lot of not-so-trustworthy information out there. Chiang warns that their reluctance can create an information vacuum that less traditional medical sources can then fill.

“This is the biggest crisis we have right now in healthcare,” Chiang told the outlet. “Everyone should be out there, but I realize I’m one of the few.”

As a result, part of the goal of AHSM is to focus on getting medical professionals past the fear factor that comes with using social media, whether out of concern about saying the wrong thing or because of a lack of consistent processes.

In a guest post for Healio in which he lays out the new group’s mission, Chiang—who serves as the director of Jefferson Health’s endoscopic bariatric program and as the director of the mid-Atlantic health system’s social media efforts—notes that the basic concept came about as a result of an Instagram hashtag, #VerifyHealthcare, that encouraged health professionals to prove their medical credentials.

Many of the medical professionals behind the hashtag, including Chiang, saw an opportunity to further the idea.

“We saw how this hashtag resonated with a lot of people—health professionals and patients alike—and we felt the need to take this a step further,” he wrote for Healio. “That’s when the idea of creating the Association for Healthcare Social Media (AHSM) arose.”

Chiang added that there is a lot of opportunity to help the broader community—and says it’s a role health professionals should embrace, not shy away from, in part because social media has become a prominent communication tool in recent decades.

“It’s important for everyone to be involved because if you are online talking about health in any way, shape, or form, then you should really be aware of how to safely and properly do so,” he added.

Beyond helping to fight misinformation, AHSM hopes to help medical professionals navigate the rough tides of social media, including the potential of conflicts of interest and the growth of sponsored content into the field.

(Halfpoint/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a senior editor for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!