Survey suggests positive effects on patient decision-making, reports Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.

For patients considering or undergoing plastic and reconstructive surgery (PRS) procedures, using social media to gather information and answer questions can enhance patient empowerment—potentially leading to increased autonomy and better decision-making, reports a study in the April issue of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, the official medical journal of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS).

“Our study suggests that connecting to social media is associated with meaningful increases in empowerment for PRS patients and may have positive effects on patient-centered decision-making,” says ASPS Member Surgeon Samuel J. Lin, MD, MBA, an associate professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School and a plastic surgeon at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.

Social Media Use Linked to Higher Empowerment Scores

The researchers performed an online survey using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk crowdsourcing platform. Of 473 respondents, about 70% had undergone some type of PRS: cosmetic in 40%, reconstructive in 23% and both cosmetic and reconstructive in eight percent. A modified version of the Cyber Info-Decisional Empowerment Scale (CIDES) was used to explore associations between social media and patient empowerment.

About three-fourths of patients reported seeking plastic surgery information online at some time during their PRS experience. Depending on the resources used, patients who obtained information online had higher scores for patient empowerment.

Social media users scored higher on 6 out of 7 CIDES categories: patient knowledge; the decision to consult with a plastic surgeon and questions during the consultation; and treatment decision-making, awareness of treatment decisions and awareness of other treatment options.

Compared to those using other social media platforms, Facebook users had higher scores in certain categories: decision to consult, questions during consultation and awareness of other treatment options. RealSelf, a plastic surgery-focused platform, was also associated with increased empowerment in treatment options.

Why Plastic Surgeons Should Engage with Social Media

Social media use had a greater impact on empowerment for patients undergoing cosmetic breast surgery, and for reconstructive procedures on the abdomen/trunk or hand. Most patients said that they received helpful information from their plastic surgeon’s office, although some found this information difficult to read.

“As medical care shifts toward a model of patient-centered decision-making, it’s important to understand how online information, and social media in particular, affects patient empowerment,” says Lin. “Our findings suggest that social media can be a useful tool to promote patient autonomy and decision-making among patients considering PRS procedures.” Previous studies suggest that patient empowerment is associated with improved healthcare experiences and outcomes.

Social media platforms such as Facebook and RealSelf offer a “forum-like interface” for patients to post questions and read opinions from other patients and physicians, providing a “sense of community or connection.” 

What’s more, Lin says, “Plastic surgeons can contribute to patient empowerment by engaging with and contributing to social media platforms, providing information based on evidence-based care and ensuring that the information provided by their office is readable and understandable.”