Guest Editorial

Social Media Matters: Why Twitter Needs Physician Voices

September 24, 2015 08:40 am Jay W. Lee, M.D., M.P.H., and Mike Sevilla, M.D.

A HealthWorksCollective blogger recently posted a list of "20 Doctors You Should be Following on Twitter,"( noting that the social media platform is an ideal venue for physicians “to offer meaningful, relevant information to patients and colleagues.”

Interestingly, 13 of the 20 doctors referenced were family physicians. We asked those 13 FPs how they use social media to advance the specialty. Here is what they had to say.

For years, we have been talking about the power and potential of social media and how family physicians can use it to disseminate important health information to the public, correct misinformation in the media, raise the profile of family medicine, and advocate for our patients and practices.

Ambassadors Use Social Media to Share FMX

The AAFP again will have a group of social media-savvy family physicians sharing their impressions and encounters at the Family Medicine Experience (FMX) -- and encouraging others to do the same -- next week during the Academy’s annual meeting in Denver.

Two of last year's social media ambassadors -- Mike Sevilla, M.D., from Salem, Ohio, and Jen Brull, M.D., from Plainville, Kan. -- return this year. They will be joined by AAFP Board Chair Reid Blackwelder, M.D., of Kingsport, Tenn., and Kristina Zimmerman, M.D., M.B.S., of Dalton, Pa., the student member of the AAFP Board.

The ambassadors will use a variety of social networks including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Periscope and Meerkat to promote member use of social media during FMX, as well as to keep attendees and other followers up-to-date about the latest events and experiences.

These members were selected because of their strong level of social media influence and the solid following they have in the family medicine community. Networking is an integral part of FMX, so attendees are encouraged to seek out and interact with the ambassadors whenever they can.

Be sure to follow #AAFPFMX to engage in the conversation and share your experiences at FMX 2015. You also can follow the social media ambassadors:

Mike Sevilla, M.D.
• Twitter: @DrMikeSevilla(
• Instagram: @drmikesevilla(

Jen Brull, M.D.
• Twitter: @mrsbrull(
• Facebook: mrsbrull(
• Instagram: @mrsbrull(

Reid Blackwelder, M.D.
• Twitter: @blackweldermd(
• Facebook: Reid Blackwelder(
• LinkedIn: Reid Blackwelder(
• Instagram: @reidblackwelder(

Kristina Zimmerman, M.D., M.B.S.
• Twitter: @Zimmosaurus(

Along the way, many of you have joined us in the Twitterverse, but there is so much more to be done. Although some still debate whether physicians should even be using social media, we would posit that it is an obligation.

Physicians know the science of medicine and the facts about our health care system. When we are not present in social media, other voices -- all too often uninformed voices -- can dominate important conversations.

Here's one example. In an attempt to manipulate and build public opinion against the use of vaccinations, from mid-August to Dec. 1, 2014, roughly 250,000 tweets( were sent using a popular anti-vaccine hashtag. One-fourth of those tweets originated from just 10 prominent anti-vax Twitter accounts, but to the casual observer, it looked as if the anti-vaccine movement was growing.

When the California State Assembly was debating a bill this year that aimed to end personal belief exemptions for vaccinations, legislators who supported the bill received thousands of negative mentions on Twitter from opponents of the legislation.

So what's a family physician to do?

We tweeted, too.

The California AFP built coalitions with pediatricians, public health officials, and others who understand the importance and value of vaccinations. We shared stories about unvaccinated patients who had been harmed by easily preventable diseases. All these factions came together in a concerted effort to make sure patients and the media knew the truth. Public opinion on the issue was formed, in part, on social media, and in the end, science won out when California became the third state to ban personal belief exemptions for immunizations.

Of course, no legislative battle is won on Twitter alone. Our strategy also included phone calls, face-to-face meetings, press interviews, letters to the editor in our local newspapers and more. All of those avenues still have value, but social media is one more way for physicians to reach a large audience. It's one more tool in our advocacy tool box.

And, unlike letters to the editor and phone calls to legislators, social media allows for collaboration and can create a community among advocates.

At some point, conversations have to move beyond a hashtag and direct messages to achieve meaningful change. So family medicine advocates are making real-life connections, which, in turn, make our social media collaborations far more effective. The power of social media is that it can bring like-minded people together to share the same messages and to help each other bring important issues to the forefront.

Next week in Denver, family physicians from around the country will meet for the Congress of Delegates, the Academy's policymaking body. But delegates already have been talking -- and collaborating -- about resolutions for weeks leading up to the annual event.

Similarly, students and residents used social media during the AAFP National Conference of Family Medicine Residents and Medical Students to develop resolutions and plan testimony in support of those resolutions during that event this summer. The same is true for attendees at the Academy's National Conference of Constituency Leaders.

Attendees at those events also use Twitter to keep people up-to-date -- both those on-site who are in other meetings and people following the events from around the country -- about the proceedings.

Why? Social media can be more immediate than email and flows more like a real conversation. During meetings, people might not have time to regularly check their email, but they likely are checking their social media accounts.

Social media also can help connect us to people outside of health care who can help us amplify our message. We have connected to members of the press through social media, and social media has kept us connected so we can continue to talk about health care and share the family medicine perspective. These online conversations can turn into a real-life back-and-forth. The time invested in developing such relationships has been well worth the effort.

The American public -- patients, payers and policymakers -- needs to know who we are and what we do. Pursuing this lofty enterprise aligns perfectly with Family Medicine for America's Health( and its three-year Health is Primary( communications campaign.

Check out health podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with DrMikeSevilla on BlogTalkRadio. Read a blog post about Sevilla's recent podcast with incoming AAFP President Wanda Filer, M.D., and California AFP President Jay Lee, M.D., M.P.H., on social media leadership in family medicine.

The three-year effort aims to educate stakeholders and decision-makers about the value of family medicine and primary care and to educate patients. The campaign has a big presence on Twitter, and you can follow along at @HealthIsPrimary.(

When it comes to advocacy, we all have issues and stories that we are passionate about, and that's the key. Speak from the heart. Tell your story.

The AAFP has social media resources for family physicians. And if you have questions or need help getting started, you can reach out to us directly @familydocwonk( or @drmikesevilla.(

Jay W. Lee, M.D., M.P.H., is associate medical director of practice transformation at MemorialCare Medical Group and director of health policy at the Long Beach Memorial Family Medicine Residency Program. He also is president of the California Academy of Family Physicians.

Mike Sevilla, M.D., is a family physician in Salem, Ohio, a member of the AAFP Commission on Membership and Member Services and vice speaker of the Ohio Academy of Family Physicians. He blogs at