Dermatology on social media

May 31, 2020 / Duncan Fisher
Most of it’s not from dermatologists

What do you get when you turn to social media for your questions about dermatology?

Most of the time you get ‘answers’ that are incomplete, or misleading, or just wrong.

There’s a reason for that, according to a recent paper in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology.1

Nearly half of us look to social media for health-related information, noted the paper’s authors, and surveys show that what we find there does influence the decisions we make.

To see what exactly we’re reading there, the team queried hashtags on Instagram, the photo-sharing platform of nearly a billion active users, and tracked engagement levels for the top 81 dermatologic diagnoses and procedures and their commonplace synonyms.

Disregarding paid advertisements, they classified posts as ‘education,’ ‘self-promotion,’ ‘non-paid product advertisement,’ or ‘patient-posted.’ They also assessed the credentials, where possible, of the people who posted.

They harvested over 10 million Instagram posts, with 43 hashtags, isolated 387 ‘top posts,’ and finally selected 258 posts that met their inclusion criteria.

35% of the people posting said they were working in the healthcare field, either as doctors (80%), nurses or nurse practitioners (10%), dentists (4%), estheticians (3%), or physician assistants (3%). Physicians made 28% of the top posts; of these, 10% said they were board-certified specialists, 9% of whose claims were confirmed online. People who said they were dermatologists made 16% of the top posts. Only 5% of top posts were made by people recognized by the American Board of Dermatology. Of the 7 individuals who used the hashtag #boardcertifieddermatologist, only 5 were verified.

Of the posts themselves, 13% were non-paid advertisements, 16% self-promotion, 23% came from patients, and 48% were intended to be educational. For procedural dermatology hashtags, 6% were advertisements, 58% were self-promotional, 20% were patient-posted, and 15% were for education. The posts from board-certified dermatologists were educational 93% of the time. Non-physician healthcare providers self-promoted 56% of the time.

What does it mean?

Very little of the dermatology content on Instagram comes from board-certified dermatologists. The overwhelming majority of dermatology-related top posts come from people with no dermatology training.

Board-certified dermatologists almost always post educational content, and pretty well never self-promote. Non-physicians are very likely indeed to self-promote.

It’s an interesting analysis.

It’s an invitation for dermatologists to become more active in social media, for one thing.

It’s also a useful caution for people hunting for dermatology answers there.

1 Park, JH, et al. J Drugs Dermatol. 2018 April 01; 17(4): 482–484.

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