Doctors have an “ethical duty” to use the communication channels used by their patients to provide them with good medical advice beyond the occasional ten minute consultation.

This was the impassioned rallying call given by inspirational American paediatrician, mum and blogger Dr Wendy Swanson at HIMSS12 last week in Las Vegas.

Dr Swanson told her audience that people have moved en-masse online, with many now effectively living their lives within social networks, but healthcare professionals have yet to follow.

If doctors want to influence their healthcare and lifestyles they need to “join their patients” in the spaces they inhabit, she said.

Although patients are searching for good health advice and information online, too often they are not finding it, she added.

Instead, they are being influenced by celebrity pseudo-science, which confuses experience with evidence.

As the author of the popular, Dr Swanson not only practices what she preaches but is also a board member of the influential Mayo Clinic for Social Media.

She argues that social media offers opportunities for medicine to engage with patients at a personal and immediate level, and offers the ability to positively influence many more patients than can be achieved through one-on-one consultations alone.

She also urges more medical colleagues to see social media as an opportunity to forge a new relationship with patients as family health advisor and mentor.

Read more about Dr Swanson’s presentation – and some of the barriers she identifies to doctors forging a new online relationship with patients – in this week’s Insight section.