Use of social network sites for communication among health professionals: Systematic review

Windy S.Y. Chan, Yee Man Angela Leung

Research output: Journal article publicationReview articleAcademic researchpeer-review

64 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Although much research has been done investigating the roles of social network sites (SNSs) in linking patients and health professionals, there is a lack of information about their uses, benefits, and limitations in connecting health professions only for professional communication. Objective: This review aimed to examine the utilization of SNSs for communication among health professionals in (1) frontline clinical practice, (2) professional networks, and (3) education and training to identify areas for future health communication research. Methods: This review followed the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-analyses guidelines. A systematic search of the literature published in the last 10 years (January 1, 2007, to March 1, 2017) was performed in March 2017, using the following electronic databases: MEDLINE via OvidSP, EMBASE, CINAHL Complete, and InfoSci-Journals. The searches were conducted using the following defined search terms: “social media” OR “social network” OR “social network site” OR “Facebook” OR “Twitter” OR “Linkedin” OR “Instagram” OR “Weibo” OR “Whatsapp” OR “Telegram” OR “WeChat” AND “health” OR “health profession.” Results: Of the 6977 papers retrieved, a total of 33 studies were included in this review. They were exploratory in nature, and the majority used surveys (n=25) and interviews (n=6). All retrieved studies stated that SNSs enhanced effective communication and information sharing. SNSs were used for supporting delivering of clinical services, making referrals, and sharing information. They were beneficial to network building and professional collaboration. SNSs were novel tools to enhance educational interactions among peers, students, instructors, and preceptors. The application of SNSs came with restraints in technical knowledge, concerns on data protection, privacy and liability, issues in professionalism, and data protection. Conclusions: SNSs provide platforms facilitating efficient communication, interactions, and connections among health professionals in frontline clinical practice, professional networks, education, and training with limitations identified as technical knowledge, professionalism, and risks of data protection. The evolving use of SNSs necessitates robust research to explore the full potential and the relative effectiveness of SNSs in professional communication.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Medical Internet Research
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2018


  • Facebook
  • Health communication
  • Health professionals
  • Professional network
  • Social media
  • Social networking
  • WhatsApp

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics

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