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Social Media: Boon or Bane for Athletic Trainers?

Like it or not, social media usage is on the rise.  We see it on our campus, in our clinic, and even in our classrooms.  While social media is often viewed as a distraction and hinderance (especially in our classrooms!), there are many social media tools available for athletic trainers and other healthcare providers that can be used in a beneficial manner.  Let’s look at some of the various social media available for athletic trainers, some social media advantages and disadvantages, and finally some guidelines for successful social media use.

Who are athletic trainers?

According to the National Athletic Trainer’s Association (NATA), “Athletic trainers (ATs) are highly qualified, multi-skilled health care professionals who render service or treatment, under the direction of or in collaboration with a physician, in accordance with their education, training and the state’s statutes, rules and regulations.” Athletic trainer responsibilities may include primary care, injury and illness prevention, wellness promotion and education, emergent care, examination and clinical diagnosis, therapeutic intervention and rehabilitation of injuries and medical conditions.

How can athletic trainers utilize social media?

As there are many platforms, there are many ways that athletic trainers can utilize social media.  Here are a few.

Organization promotion

Health care organizations may use social media to enhance visibility within their community.  Studies have shown that using social media in this way can influence where patients go to seek services. 

Patient care

Athletic trainers may choose to use specifically designed social media and patient portals for patient care.  These technologies can be used for health monitoring, as well as encouraging behavioral changes and drug adherence.  Patients may use them to refill prescriptions, contact their healthcare provider, and schedule appointments.

Patient Education

Studies indicate that in the United States, eight out of ten internet users search for health information online.  This presents an opportunity for athletic trainers to distribute evidence-based information to counter the often-inaccurate information on the internet.  Athletic trainers may consider creating content via blogs or videos, as well as participating in forums and online communities.  Athletic trainers may also curate content for their patients, such as directing them to YouTube videos that demonstrate a particular technique.  The distribution of credible information has shown to motivate observable behavioral changes within social networks.

What are social media advantages?

Patients are using social media.  Whether it is to connect with providers, learn about services, or connect with other patients, social media are being used, and that usage is only growing.  Athletic trainers and other healthcare professionals can utilize these platforms to connect with their patient audience, whether it is to promote their organization, provide care, or educate.  When done well, social media use can increase visibility, bring in patients, and improve patient outcomes.

What are social media disadvantages?

As with any tool, there are disadvantages to social media use, and pitfalls that need to be avoided.

Unprofessional content

The posting of unprofessional content can create long-lasting damage.  Behaviors that can be seen as unprofessional include:

  • Use of profanity
  • Discriminatory language
  • Negative comments about patients, or an employer
  • Airing of frustrations
  • Violations of patient privacy
  • Sexually suggestive content
  • Content that alludes to drug or alcohol use

Athletic trainers should be aware of the content they post, and how it can reflect on their professional image.

Boundary violations between patient and athletic trainer

Interacting with a patient through social media can inadvertently violate the professional boundaries of athletic trainer-patient relationships.  Patients may extend “friend” invitations to their athletic trainers via social media, but it is generally advised for athletic trainers to not reciprocate or respond.

Athletic trainers can also violate the patient’s personal boundaries through inappropriately using information gathered through social media.

Licensing and legal issues

Inappropriate social media usage can lead to licensing as well as legal issues.  In related fields, physicians and nurses have both faced disciplinary actions involving online disclosure of patients’ personal information.  The HIPAA Privacy Rule of 2003 provides federal standards for the protection of patient information.   Beyond patient privacy violations, athletic trainers could also face disciplinary action for violating professional standards. It is important to note that social media networks, applications, and communication platforms should meet the security criteria for sensitive information (i.e., HIPAA and FERPA). Many of the platforms that people assume are “safe and protected” may not be.

Guidelines for professional social media use

The NATA has published a Communication Toolkit which includes some athletic training tips for professional social media accounts.  NATA has not published social media guidelines for athletic trainers for their own personal social media, however many other healthcare organizations have.  Athletic trainers may find it helpful to look at the guidelines published by The American Medical Association (AMA) and National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN). Below are some general guidelines from the article Social Media and Health Care Professionals, Benefits, Risks, and Best Practices by C. Lee Ventrola:

  • Content Credibility
    • Share only information from credible sources.
    • Refute any inaccurate information you encounter.
  • Legal concerns
    • Remember that the content you author may be discoverable.
    • Comply with federal and state privacy laws.
    • Respect copyright laws.
  • Licensing concerns
    • Know professional licensure requirements for your state.
  • Networking practices
    • Do not contact patients with requests to join your network.
    • Direct patients who want to join your personal network to a more secure means of communication or your professional site.
  • Patient care
    • Avoid providing specific medical advice to nonpatients.
    • Make appropriate disclosures and disclaimers regarding the accuracy, timeliness, and privacy of electronic communications.
  • Patient privacy
    • Use the most secure privacy settings possible.
    • Make sure you are in compliance with state and federal privacy laws.
    • Obtain patient consent when required.
    • Protect patient information through “de-identification.”
    • Use a respectful tone when discussing patients.
  • Personal privacy
    • Use the most secure privacy setting available.
    • Keep personal and professional profiles separate.
  • Professional ethics
    • Disclose any in-kind or financial compensation received.
    • Do not make false or misleading claims.
  • Self-Identification
    • Identify yourself on professional sites.
    • Make sure that your credentials are correctly stated.
    • Specify whether or not you are representing an employer.

As you can see, there are many uses for social media, but an athletic trainer must also be very mindful to avoid some of the serious social media disadvantages.  Hopefully you’ve learned some ways a professional athletic trainer can utilize these tools, as well as tips to maintain a professional social media presence. 



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Secondary deadline: Jan. 25
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First day of classes and Summer semester dates:
MSAT: June 3- August 2nd 2024
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