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By April Frawley Birdwell

First, tweet no harm.

According to a 2011 Nielsen report on Internet traffic, Americans spend nearly one-quarter of their online lives using social media, so it’s no surprise sites like Facebook and Twitter have become a part of the digital health care landscape. This is the focus of Social Media in Medicine: The Impact of Online Social Networks on Contemporary Medicine, a new book co-edited by a University of Florida College of Medicine researcher that takes a closer look at the role social networking plays in health care today and the opportunities it offers for the future.

Until now, most of the research into social media and medicine has revolved around professionalism — issues related to how health care providers and medical students should behave online — and protecting patients’ privacy. These topics are still a big part of the book’s content, but the text takes a broader view, covering everything from ethical dilemmas to how social media affects clinical practice.

“Social media is no longer a novelty,” said Erik Black, Ph.D., a UF assistant professor in the colleges of Medicine and Education and co-editor of the book. “It’s time to push the conversation beyond issues of professionalism into new boundaries.”

Individuals, health care providers and health institutions are already using social media in both beneficial and potentially worrisome ways. Patients have formed online communities using social networking, as have physicians, in some cases raising privacy issues. Even Facebook itself entered the arena in May, adding a tool that allows users to update their organ donor status and linking them to online registries.

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