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Case Against Social Media Triumphs in Debate

Ryan Spurrier, MD

The gloves came off in a war of wit and words over the proper role of social media in medicine at the 13th annual Dr. Leon Morgenstern Great Debates in Clinical Medicine Resident Competition on Friday, June 3.

To underscore the fierceness of the bout to come, the theme from Rocky played as the debaters — Cedars-Sinai resident physicians Ryan Spurrier, MD, and Justin Steggerda, MD — marched into a standing-room-only crowd in Harvey Morse Auditorium.

When the hourlong debate was over, Spurrier triumphed with his argument that social media poses a threat to professionalism in medicine. A veteran of the event, Spurrier collected his second Morgenstern Trophy and a cash prize.

In honor of the event's 13th birthday, Rabbi Jason Weiner bar mitzvahed the debate.

During the debate, Spurrier asserted that the misuse of social media could ruin credibility and erode the physician-patient relationship.

"We must hold ourselves as physicians to a higher standard than other professionals and we must certainly rise above the frivolity and the interactions that are commonplace in social media," Spurrier said. "As physicians we raised our hands and took an oath; the last line of our Hippocratic oath reads, 'May I always act so to protect the finest traditions of my calling.'"

Spurrier added that privacy and integrity could easily be jeopardized as well if social media is not used carefully and critically.

"Even the occasional lapse in judgment in the age of social media lasts forever. It can serve to undermine the tenets of professional behavior and has the potential to generate public mistrust of the medical profession as a whole," he said. "Society demands that physicians fill an elite role as unflinching professionals with an unwavering commitment to the care of their patients. It is society's very confidence in the professionalism of each and every one of us here today that comforts the sick in their time of uncertainty and fear."

Steggerda countered that when used properly, social media offers physicians a new opportunity to connect with patients, build relationships and provide accurate patient education.

"Patients want to be your friend," Steggerda said. "They want to have a voice in their own care and they want to feel as though they can engage in discussion with you, and being a little more human from that standpoint may actually help develop that patient-physician relationship."

Steggerda agreed with Spurrier that professionalism was critically important when engaging in social media. With what he prescribed as a "healthy dose of caution," physicians could learn best practices for using social media effectively without damaging their reputation or practice. In his opinion, social media is another form of evolving technology that helps physicians improve how they relate to and treat their patients.

"Amongst physicians, patients and medical education, social media offers the opportunity to extend healthcare to reach a broader population, to keep up with new discoveries, treatments and research, and to overall improve the state of clinical medicine," said Steggerda. "Do not be left behind."

Leo Gordon, MD, coordinator and moderator of the Great Debates, recognized both participants for their contributions to an event that promotes the advancement of the medical profession.

"It's very easy to get down about the state of medicine," said Gordon. "But then we meet people like Dr. Spurrier and Dr. Steggerda, and you are convinced that we will pass this wonderful profession on to committed, enthusiastic and reputable people like those you heard from this morning."