The power of social media in health care with Dr. Jennifer Lincoln

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Hear from Jennifer Lincoln, MD, IBCLC, the OB hospitalist and lactation consultant whose TikTok posts have landed her nearly 2.5 million followers about the power of social media in health care.

The 2021 Society of OB/GYN Hospitalists' (SOGH) Annual Clinical Meeting will begin on Monday, with the afternoon including Lincoln's session, "Social Media for the OB/GYN Hospitalist." In preparation, Contemporary OB/GYN®'s Associate Editor, Lindsey Carr, spoke with her about the role of social media in health care, why ob/gyns need a digital presence, and how to get a stress-free start. Plus, hear Lincoln's tips on tackling online trolls.

Follow Lincoln on TikTok, Twitter, and Instagram.

JL: A large part of my practice outside of the hospital is doing social media education, and using various platforms to educate, bust myths, empower, all that good stuff. As I have become more of a user of these platforms, I have really become a believer that we as healthcare providers need to be on social media. If not using it, at least understanding what our patients are seeing, because Americans spend 142 minutes a day in front of screens on social media, and that definitely trumps the short amount of time they spend with us.

Combating misinformation

They're seeing a lot of information, but also misinformation. When they come to see us, they've already got preconceived ideas of what's going on. treatments, therapies, that sort of thing. It's not always accurate. So as health care providers, we have to know that this is out there. If you're really wanting to push the needle, [be] out there to create content to counteract this misinformation, so our patients have the best chance at getting the right information for them.

LC: Say a patient comes in [with] misinformation, and they're just adamant about proceeding with this method of treatment, but you know it's false. How would you approach that?

JL: I tell people, 'It's never your fault if you fall for something that is not true or not accurate, because that's exactly what these people and these companies that profit off of this, that's what they want to do. They're really smart, and they've got adorable marketing, and they know how to get to you.'

It's also very easy to misrepresent yourself online. Anybody can put on a white coat, or even call themselves a doctor in a social media profile. They could be a doctor in the field of, you know, being a chiropractor [sic], but they are putting that in their profile, nd their entire account is about period care and period support. So it can be really hard to know. So if somebody comes to me, in a non-judgmental way, I give them information and say, 'Here's why this isn't true. Here's what is true. And where do you want to go next?' Despite that, some people will still say, 'Well, no, I want this supplement, or I want this treatment, and as providers, it is up to us whether or not we perform those things or continue, and if a relationship doesn't feel mutually beneficial, it is absolutely okay to say, 'I don't feel comfortable with that plan, and I'm not able to, to do that, and you are more than welcome to get another opinion elsewhere.'

Getting started

LC: What advice would you have for folks just getting into social media?

JL: My best advice is to not jump in too quickly. I think it is great to watch and learn first to see what is already existing out there on these different platforms. See what works, what doesn't, and really just to understand the tone and how things, in general, are presented.

In addition to that, it's really answering the question of, what's your goal and being very specific. Not just saying, I want to help my patients. What exactly do you want to do? Do you want to educate? Do you want to increase your reach for research? Do you want to market a practice? Do you want to connect with other practitioners? Based on your very specific goal, then you will know where to start. That can be very helpful to figure that out before you start, as opposed to months afterward, where you think, 'Oh, man, I should have been on this platform, not that one, and I wasted all this time.'

The third thing that's super important, before you do anything, is to check in with your organization's social media policy. That's because no longer is the excuse, 'Well, I just didn't know,' valid. It's 2021. We all know that these policies exist, and we should be checking them. If your organization doesn't have one, saying, 'Hey, I think you guys need one, but I'm happy to help you craft that.' I think those are all super important in terms of making sure you're optimizing your time, you are putting yourself in front of the platform, in front of the audience that you're hoping to reach, and while you're doing this, you are not jeopardizing your career.

Dealing with trolls

LC: What about social media monitoring (watching for instigators, bullies, etc.)?

Not everybody will like you. On social media, more so, because people can hide behind [the] keyboard. I get comments every day about people telling me that I'm a horrible person, that I'm going to hell, that I am 'not a real doctor' because I discuss things like the COVID-vaccine and access to reproductive rights, and things like speaking out against the Texas abortion ban. There are a bunch of great things that you can do to limit this.

The first thing is to block liberally. I tell people social media is like my house, and you can ring the doorbell, but I don't have to let you in. If I do let you in, and then you're really rude, I can show you the door and that's okay, because boundaries are really healthy.

You can also do other things such as limiting certain words, so that people who use certain words, their posts will not show up in front of you. That's nice because it already sort of filters out the really extreme people.

Reporting for bullying and trolling is another thing that you can do. You can also limit who comments. You can turn off your comments when you go to bed at night so that you don't have to worry about what's out there. There's a lot of things that you can do.

At the end of the day, you are in control of your platform, and just understand that people won't always like you, and [be] okay with that. I'm okay with people disagreeing with me. Not everybody has to agree with me, but we do have to remember the rules of kindergarten where you do have to be nice. If you don't have anything nice to say, then you don't need to say it. If you do, I get to delete it.

I think that, specifically in the realm of ob/gyn, and reproductive and vaginal health, there is so much misinformation. It's because people are not taught it in school. The vast majority of people don't get comprehensive, medically accurate sex education, so they're left just to figure things out on their own. Young people especially are really smart. They want answers, so they go online.

Unfortunately, some stuff is accurate, but a lot of it isn't. So, in our realm, just spend 10 minutes on TikTok searching certain hashtags, and you'll be horrified at what is out there. The misperceptions about birth, pregnancy, breastfeeding, birth control, especially periods. There's so much stuff out there. There's so many people who want to make a buck off of women who are 'hormone experts,' or 'period experts,' and they have no actual training. I didn't know that this was so rampant until I joined social media.

Again, even if you have no desire to have a TikTok account, I get it, but you do need to understand what's out there, and what your patients are seeing. At least being aware of that can be really helpful.

Going viral: The Texas abortion ban

JL: [TikTok] is a great example: I posted some TikToks on Instagram yesterday about the Texas abortion ban. They went viral, and that's great. Then, of course, in come the people who really disagree. So I just turned off all my comments and all ability to DM me because I don't need to worry about that all day. Maybe I'll open up the door back a little bit later, and maybe they'll close again. I don't know.

JL: The Texas abortion ban is not about restricting or trying to decrease abortion. It's about control of people with a uterus.

It will lead to not a decrease rate of abortions, it will just lead to an increase in unsafe abortions. It's a complete hypocritical action where, in a state where they don't want you to be forced to wear a mask in public, but yet they can force this on to other people. It's a disaster, and hopefully, we will see it turned around and we will continue to support people who need access to abortion care. Abortion care is health care.

The people who tend not to get that are the people who've never had to treat somebody whose pregnancy is actively killing them, or they have a baby with a lethal anomaly, or birth control doesn't work 100% of the time. It's definitely a polarizing thing. I completely agree that people could have opinions about abortions. But if you don't want one, don't have one. You don't need to make these restrictive laws about it.