Social Media Use in Health Policy Research

Jun 11, 2014, 1:00 PM

Health policy researchers shy away from using social media to share findings with policy-makers, according to a study published online by Health Affairs. Only 14 percent of the 215 researchers surveyed reported tweeting, and 21 percent reported blogging about their research or related health policy in the past year.

Compared with communications channels such as traditional media and direct outreach, social media were not perceived as ineffective, but survey respondents rated social media lower in three key areas: self-confidence to use social media, peer respect, and perceptions of social media in academic promotion.

“We were encouraged by the view that researchers thought social media could be an effective way to communicate research,” David Grande, MD, MPA, the study’s lead author, said in an interview. “But we were surprised by the fears we heard many people express, particularly about making mistakes with social media and getting into trouble with their academic institutions for doing so.”

The challenges faced by the country in the era of health care reform call for using new forms of communication that can show progress and guide policy, said Grande, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Health & Society Scholars program alumnus who is an assistant professor of medicine and an associate director of the RWJF Clinical Scholars program at the University of Pennsylvania.

“We have a long way to go to get academic researchers to embrace social media,” Grande said. “Academic institutions will have to acknowledge that social media can have a role in promoting research, and institutions need to provide infrastructure and support to researchers to develop a social media presence. It’s too much to expect researchers to do it on their own.”

Among the study’s co-authors are Sarah Gollust, PhD, an RWJF Health & Society Scholars alumna, and Zachary Meisel, MD, MPH, MSc, an alumnus of the RWJF Clinical Scholars program.

Read the study, which will also be published in the July issue of Health Affairs.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.