Use of social media by Emergency Medical Care students and qualified Advanced Life Support providers in South Africa


Background: Social media has emerged as a powerful tool for the dissemination of information across a wide range of health professions, including emergency medical care. While social media platforms can be very effectively used in support of educational and operational information sharing, the ubiquitous presence of smart devices and social media access in the clinical environment has led to concerns about professionals’ ethical behaviour; in particular, infringements of patients’ privacy rights.
Aim: To explore the use of social media by pre-hospital emergency medical care students and qualified Advanced Life Support (ALS) emergency care personnel.
Methods: A cross-sectional survey was used, with a custom-developed questionnaire consisting mostly of closed-ended questions, with some confirmatory open-ended questions. The questionnaire was directly administered to emergency medical care students across all four academic years of study at a large urban university in [Redacted]. ALS providers who were members of an email list were also invited to participate in the survey, by completing the same questionnaire online. Data analysis was descriptive in nature.
Results: Response rates were 66% for students and 10% for ALS providers. Social media use was reported by almost all participants, with between 78% and 71% indicating that they used social media for professional or learning purposes. The majority of ALS providers (79%) indicated they were aware of organisational policies on social media use, while only 44% of students indicated awareness of this, and most (53%) were unsure. Between 92% and 73% of participants stated that they had seen unethical or unprofessional postings on social media. Most participants (84%) indicated that they were concerned or very concerned about such postings.
Conclusion: Social media is a powerful tool with both positive and negative outcomes. While its use can facilitate educational interactions and support clinical operations, there are concerns for patients’ rights in terms of social media use in the clinical environment – particularly the right to privacy. The development of and compliance with organisational or institutional social media policies may help to enhance the positive aspects of social media use, together with appropriate ethical and professional behaviour.

Original Research