The Power of Social Media in Pharmacy

Suzanne Soliman, PharmD, BCMAS, founder of Pharmacist Moms Group, discusses the power of social media to advance the field of pharmacy.

Suzanne Soliman, PharmD, BCMAS, founder of Pharmacist Moms Group, discusses the power of social media to advance the field of pharmacy.

Alana Hippensteele: Hi, my name is Alana Hippensteele from Pharmacy Times. Before we get started, one of our top articles today is about cancer politics and policy during the COVID-19 pandemic and discusses how COVID-19 is changing the future of community oncology. There's more of that on pharmacytimes.com. Today, I'm speaking with Suzy Solomon of the Pharmacist Moms Group about her recent lecture on the power of social media to advance the field of pharmacy. To start off, why is the use of social media important for the field of pharmacy right now?

Suzanne Soliman: So, I think that you know right now it's important for pharmacists now more than ever because we're kind of frontline workers so people can actually see what we are doing, and what we can do. I think that it's critical, a lot of times pharmacists are, you know, they're worried about what the public perception of a pharmacist could be, and I think now we're really right at the forefront where things could change. Even how pharmacists are able to now provide COVID-19 testing, I think that that's a big deal as well, and that we need to let people know that we can now, you know, test for COVID-19 as well. I mean that's a step in the right direction for the pharmacy profession, so I think that, you know, with social media, we know that everybody's using it, everybody's on it, so it's our chance to kind of get our voice out there.

Alana Hippensteele: Right, absolutely. You touched upon that point on the role that social media has in in connecting pharmacists with patients and really educating patients on what exactly pharmacists are capable of doing to support them during COVID-19. In regard to beyond COVID-19 related issues, you touched on this in your lecture, but, just really briefly, what are some of the benefits of using social media in the field of pharmacy for professionals more broadly.

Suzanne Soliman: So, I think there are so many issues that are facing pharmacists today, and some of the issues that I talked about during my talk were provider status, I think that's an issue that's been happening in pharmacy for at least the past decade or over a decade, so I think that we can use social media as a platform to help propel us into a provider status to make, you know, pharmacists have provider status. The other issues are like DIR fees, we're talking about that, the clawback fees that pharmacies have to pay money to dispense the medication. We need to talk about that, we need to get that into mainstream media.

Reading the pharmacist more as human, you know, the humanism showing that other side of the pharmacist will really help tell the story. And I think the other part is with the patients, you know, having the patients increase their trust in the pharmacist to see us as the, you know, the medication expert. And I also think that letting people know that there are different fields and opportunities, that pharmacists all don't just work in a pharmacy, that there are so many different pharmacists who are performing various functions within pharmacy. And I think that's critical as well to let people hear those stories, and let them see what pharmacists are doing all across the, you know, all across the country.

Alana Hippensteele: Yeah, absolutely. And in terms of how social media can, you were talking a bit about social media’s ability to broaden horizons in regards to career possibilities, would you mind touching on that maybe a little bit more? Like how social media can advance pharmacists career opportunities in the future?

Suzanne Soliman: Yeah, I think that, you know, once we can change the perception so that people can see what pharmacists can actually do, it can increase our scope of practice, and also in terms of connecting, so you can reach out to a physician or a nurse, and you can all of a sudden broaden your interprofessional connections. And then someone might say, ‘Hey we're looking for a pharmacist on our team,’ or ‘we need a pharmacist in this area’ and you could begin to show and showcase your skills to other healthcare professionals.

You can also let people know you know, ‘I work in the ICU’ or ‘I work in CCU and this is my background, and this is my training and, you know, I've done this area.’ And even within your community pharmacy there are so many pharmacists who are performing different tests, you know, they're going through blood pressure readings and just letting patients know what a pharmacist can do above and beyond, and we've encountered that campaign. I think a lot of pharmacists will say, ‘Well most people think of a pharmacist that we just count pills,’ but we are so much more than that, and it's really our job, I think now more than ever, to use social media to show everything that the pharmacist can do.

I was actually watching CNN last night, and Alicia Keys performed this one song about everything going on, and she showcased one of a pharmacist, and there was that picture of the pharmacist who was behind the curtain at Elmhurst Hospital in New York, and it was really touching, and it was like, you know what, here's the pharmacist this this photo made you know mainstream media so you know social media can go a long way.

Alana Hippensteele: Yeah, absolutely. You were talking about the way that social media really allows not only for patients to understand the scope of what pharmacists are doing, but also understand them more as people. Just kind of building on that, how can connecting with the humanity of pharmacists advance patient pharmacist relationships.

Suzanne Soliman: Well, we know that, you know, improved perception or, you know, can improve outcomes so when patients see the pharmacist as a human or more human like, the outcomes improve actually. And when you can relate to a patient, when they see you as, you know, whether you're a mom or you know a parent, or whatever you might be, you know, what, ‘oh my dad was diagnosed with something similar to you,’ you know wherever you can fit in. And they can see that you've gone through something similar, you can relate to them in a different way, and they see that side of you: ‘You know what I am really tired, I am hungry, I didn't eat lunch today.’ All of a sudden that changes everything, that changes their perception of the pharmacist. So there's, you know, a patient may come in and say, ‘What do you mean a pharmacist is on break,’ but when they hear you know that this person's been standing all day, they haven’t eaten, and they've been working all day.

So, we really need to let people become aware of the issues that pharmacists are facing. It's not just all black and white, and a lot of them aren't aware, and we know that again patient outcomes improve. We know that burnout can directly impact patient outcomes as well, so when healthcare professionals are more burned-out, patients don't do as well. So, we want to make sure that pharmacists aren't burned out, and we want to make sure that, you know, patients outcomes can actually improve as well from that.

Alana Hippensteele: I'm curious a little bit as to what that, and this might be a little bit you were you were speaking to the campaigns that social media allows for, in terms of kind of raising awareness and not only allowing for advocacy on the part of pharmacists, but also on the part of patients. Would you say, you're talking about burnout, would you say that that is an area of focus within that kind of campaign sphere in your experience?

Suzanne Soliman: I mean, it could be. There are campaigns related to that. I think though that none of them that I know of in pharmacy at least have made mainstream media, but I think we can get there. So I think talking about what pharmacists are enduring, you know, throughout the day, you need more videos out there on what they're actually doing, that you know they're not just putting a label on something, that this is actually what is taking place. And if we have campaigns that everyone can participate in, and that we joined forces, I think that that's important too. I think, you know, one person or one group doing a campaign is not going to be successful, but if you have a lot of pharmacists participating to show, ‘hey this is what we do, and this is what we stand for,’ that's when big changes happen.

Alana Hippensteele: Yeah, absolutely. So, in terms of, you touched upon some potential risks for pharmacy professionals, mainly in regard to the importance of recognizing that what you post on social media stays on social media. Are there any potential risks in the patient-pharmacist relationship in regard to social media?

Suzanne Soliman: Yeah, definitely. I mean you should not be giving out advice, it's not a one size fits all, so as a pharmacist, we're pretty much aware of that as well. So, you don't want to make a dose advice or recommendation for every single person. Everyone is individualized, so you probably need to have those disclaimers saying, you know, this is this is just general, you know, general information for your education, but it's not, it doesn't apply to everybody. So, you do have to have those disclaimers as well, I think that's important. Yeah definitely, great point, because you don't want to just, you know, say anything to anyone, and they might have kidney failure or something else going on, and then, you know, they need a different treatment.

Alana Hippensteele: Yeah, absolutely. And you were talking about some best practices in regard to pharmacists’ use of social media. Really briefly, what would be kind of a brief overview of what some of those are?

Suzanne Soliman: So, I think the main things are that like showing your human, I think, I know I keep coming back to that, but I just think that, you know, Dr. Google, or Google, is here to stay, you know, patients are going to look things up on the internet, they are going to contact you, and being able to relate to them, and, you know, and be able to say, you know, what I saw that you look this up, and this is how it can impact you, this is how this medication works, this is how this medication works, being able to explain to them what they've read, staying human with them, so they know like who you are, what your background is, so that you're not just this big pharmacist on top of a stage or a stool, you know.

When you think about the media and in the movies and stuff, sometimes the pharmacist is some scary person behind the counter, and you don't even get to talk to them because the technicians are doing all the talking, so making yourself more personable, I think, is really important. I think that that's also critical as being personable so that you're approachable, so people want to talk to you as well.

I think that remembering what you put out there is critical. I think that, you know, if you put anything out there, or that, it's there forever, so you need to really be cognizant of what you're writing, it's not going to go away, you know. So, you need to be aware of what you've put out there, I think, so being professional, remaining professional at all times is critical. It's, you know, people can find things. Anyone in any field, if you're hiring someone, you're going to go look for them on social media often, and you're going to say, ‘let me see their profile, let me see what I can find out about this person,’ and you're going to check, I mean, there are stories where people were calling in sick to work, and then they're posting on their Facebook site, you know, where they're going for the day, so you have to also be smart with what you're posting, you know. Be professional, remain professional, you're still a professional, you know, and I think that's really important for sure.

I think the other thing that I would say is best practice is joining forces with someone so working with others, working together is critical. You again, you don't want to do this on your own, you want to work together, unify, to get the mainstream public to see the messages, to see what you're talking about, to see what we're talking about, you know, you don't want to give up. I think, you know, it's hard in the beginning, you might not have followers, you might just be posting, and, you know, your mom and your sister are liking all your posts, but eventually, you know, it will begin - it will begin to grow, and, you know, you got to post meaningful content, come up with an area that you really like, and make friends on social, like so all of a sudden you can have this whole new group of friends on social.

Alana Hippensteele: Yeah, absolutely. One of the things I'm curious about is, kind of looking to the future, what do you see social media being able to do for the field of pharmacy. On into the future, how do you see that kind of tool getting used progressively?

Suzanne Soliman: I really think it can change things. I think that, you know, social media can make changes, and, I use the example with the Chuck Schumer incident, where a senator from New York, you know, had commented, he made a comment, and he didn't include pharmacists as healthcare providers, and simple social media tweets and, you know, posts, and Instagram, and everyone's tweeting it and retweeting it. And the next day, he responds. So, I think that, you know, we can make a difference, versus before where it was, like, calling somebody and mailing letters, and, you know, I think that it's a lot faster to just, you know, tweet someone and let them know it takes less time, so it's a lot easier for us, but I think that's a small example of how social can really make a big change, and you know, whereas years ago that might not have been able to happen.

And I think in the future, it's just going to continue. We know that everyone has a minimum of eight different types of social media accounts, so people are on social media, as the generations continue to grow. I mean the generation now, who is younger, they're growing up on social. I mean my - all of my kids were growing up on YouTube, watching, you know, they know YouTube better than me, so you know which clip they're watching, and they all love Peppa Pig, and you know like they know it, they know it. So by the time they’re, you know, twenty-something, they are very familiar with social media, and that's where, you know, we know that the main source of news is coming. As well for, you know, professionals between the ages of 18 to 29, I think they're saying that's where they get their news too, so it's here - it's here to stay. I think we need to embrace it, and not be scared of it, and not reject it. I think we need to embrace it as a profession, and we need to utilize it towards our advantage.

Alana Hippensteele: Absolutely, yeah. One thought on that that I'm curious to get your perspective on: Would you say that there's a danger for a feedback loop within social media in regard to the spread of information? Would you say that that's a problem or within the field of pharmacy would you say that that's potentially not as much an issue as it can be within other kind of media areas.

Suzanne Soliman: Right now, I don't think it's a problem. I don't think there's enough news out there about pharmacy, you know, on the social sites. So, I think, you know, if there - if there was a lot, eventually it could be, but I think right now, we need to get more information out there. Again professionals, stay professional, remember what you're doing, like I said, there were medical students, nursing students who've been expelled from their programs for, you know, not posting professionally. But I think that, at this point, there's really not that much out there, you know, I think as much as there could be, or there should be, in terms of campaigns, and, you know, we could - we could do a lot more.

Alana Hippensteele: Absolutely. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today. Now, let's hear from some of our other MJH Life Sciences brands on their latest headlines.