Future Leaders of Medicine Making a Difference Today

Kyle L. Hoedebecke, Maria Bakola, Nagwa Hegazy, Rosanna D’Addosio, & Kenneth Yabuku


Social Media (#SoMe) has become a global phenomenon with more than 73% of adults actively engaged online. Specific to healthcare, these applications are being included with ever increasing frequency as a complement to both patient treatment and medical training. Furthermore, #SoMe has permitted medical innovators to transcend traditional limits and collaborate via methods previously unexplored. These platforms will only become more influential in the healthcare sector as more people around the world gain internet access. The authors underscore several novel #SoMe uses in healthcare developed by the young physicians and trainees of the World Organization of Family Doctors (WONCA). Any of these ideas can be easily adjusted to suit specific population needs. With better understanding of digital capabilities, #SoMe augmentation will undoubtedly improve medical training resources and physician collaboration while optimizing patient care.


Social Media (#SoMe), classified as internet applications permitting the creation and exchange of user-generated content, has become a global phenomenon with more than 73% of adults actively engaged online. 1,2 Two of the most popular - Facebook and Twitter - have over a billion and 500 million users, respectively. 3–5 In healthcare, #SoMe applications are increasingly included to complement both patient treatments and medical training. 1,6,7 Furthermore, #SoMe has permitted medical innovators to transcend traditional limits and collaborate via methods previously unexplored. The authors underscore several novel #SoMe uses developed by the young family physicians (FPs) and trainees of the World Organization of Family Doctors (WONCA) with the goal of highlighting how to better implement these tools in healthcare systems worldwide.


The #1WordforFamilyMedicine initiative served to explore the identity of FPs by allowing the international family medicine (FM) community to collaborate on advocating for the discipline via #SoMe. Participating countries provided numerous responses to the question “What is your favorite part of FM?” A “word cloud” image was created based on a unique icon identifying different countries around the world. This project has been promoted by WONCA and its member organizations to help celebrate World Family Doctor Day yearly. As the importance of FM continues to be underscored, an additional aim was to increase global awareness about this strategically important specialty within our healthcare systems. To date, over 110 different countries on six continents have participated. 8–11 The images represent FPs’ love for their profession and the communities they serve in addition to inspiring current and future FPs. This initiative supports and recruits FPs, and the next section addresses how #SoMe helps address the difficulties that physicians face on a daily basis.

Balint 2.0

Balint Groups (BGs) are small groups of physicians who participate in regular meetings that allow for self-reflection and an improved understanding of the physician-patient relationship. A difficult case is discussed during each meeting. 12,13 FPs often encounter very difficult emotional situations because they witness patient suffering, anxiety, and desperation. BGs offer adaptive techniques in order to overcome such situations. 14,15

However, BGs are not available everywhere; thus, in 2014, the Facebook group for Polaris - the WONCA Young Doctor Movement (YDM) for North America - brought together FPs in the first ever digital international multi-site BG, called Balint 2.0. The group had 14 FPs from 11 different countries in collaboration with the International Balint Federation. The collaboration lasted three years and provided the opportunity for physicians from all over the world to experience BGs, understand how they work, and receive the benefits of such a group16. Furthermore, each participant now has the capability to form new groups in their distinct region of the world previously naive to the concept. Balint 2.0 effectively showed that digital BGs are achievable with today’s technology and can be used to cater to the professional needs of isolated or rural physicians. #SoMe platforms have even delved into the academic realm where FPs and their patients can now access continued medical education (CME) from elite sources.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs):

MOOCs are unlimited web-based courses accessed through computers, smartphones, or other digital devices. These platforms have revolutionized higher education by enabling students around the world take university courses online, satisfying desires to learn while minimizing the obstacles of time, place, prerequisites and financial limitations. 17 The course registration and resources are free of charge, although some courses require a small payment for verified certificates of completion. MOOCs function through autonomy, diversity, openness and interactivity and rely on aggregation, remixing, repurposing, and feeding forward the resources and learning. 17

The YDMs again worked together in applying MOOCs to support CME. Participants from 35 countries completed an initiative that combined social media platforms with a MOOC offered by Harvard University. This novel approach resulted in a completion rate over four folds greater than the baseline rate. By perfecting and expanding upon the coupling of #SoMe and MOOCs, participation will only further improve continued medical education, collaboration, and best practice exchange between colleagues worldwide.

#SoMe for Researchers

Because #SoMe connects people worldwide, these platforms also serve as an important source of healthcare data. One way physicians do this is through their own #SoMe platforms - most notably Academia.edu and ResearchGate. By sharing data here, researchers give their own work greater exposure while simultaneously finding related resources, colleagues with shared interests, and the ability to objectively monitor useful impact metrics. With the advent of “fake news” and “alternative facts,” #SoMe has the ability to misguide its users - including those in the medical realm. To combat this, the YDMs worked together to discover which #SoMe hashtags and users were the most influential. Using the Symplur platform, hashtag data was gathered and analyzed with a patented mathematical formula in order to create a list of top #SoMe primary care resources. 18 These are now used in the YDM Daily News - securing the best curated and updated sources for its readers. Furthermore, one must understand how to best promote healthcare topics. With the average American reading level ranging between the 6th and 8th grade levels, #SoMe has the potential to ensure that information both reaches more users and is better understood. A recent study by WONCA’s younger cohort supports this by identifying that #SoMe medical content is written at a much more understandable level when compared to medical pamphlets or other documents provided by healthcare facilities. 19,20 This aspect will be important when trying to capture the attention of those speaking English as a second language within and beyond our borders.

Discussion & Conclusions

Reviewing these initiatives identifies the unique ability of #SoMe to reach over a billion people worldwide. These platforms will only become more influential in the healthcare sector as more people around the world gain internet access. Any of the above ideas can be easily adjusted to suit specific population needs and then implemented. With better understanding of digital capabilities, #SoMe augmentation will undoubtedly improve medical training resources, physician collaboration, and optimize patient care.

About the Authors

Dr. Kyle Hoedebecke (MD, MBA, MS, MPA, FAAFP) is a board certified Family Physician and serves as an assistant professor at the Uniformed Services University. With over 60 peer-reviewed publications in 8 languages, he specializes in streamlining medical systems, implementing technology, and decreasing costs in order to improve healthcare systems globally.

Maria Bakola (MD) is a General Practitioner/Family Physician currently working in Ioannina, Greece. Her research interests include empirical assessment of the literature on self-management for chronic illness, as well as international collaboration for the improvement of public health, primary care and emergency medicine through the implementation of new initiatives.

Dr. Nagwa Hegazy (MD) is an assistant professor in Family Medicine at Menoufia University, Egypt and holds a professional diploma in research methodology. She currently serves on the Executive Board of the Egyptian Family Medicine Association as well as the Chair of Al-Razi Young Doctors Movement for the East Mediterranean Region.


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