Only 14 percent of health policy researchers report using Twitter--and approximately 20 percent use blogs and Facebook--to communicate their research findings, according to a new study from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

In contrast, 65 percent use traditional media channels, such as press releases or media interviews.

While participants believe that social media can be an effective way to communicate research findings, many lack the confidence to use it and feel their academic peers and institutions do not value it or respect it as much as traditional media and direct contact with policy makers. However, the authors note that when used effectively, social media channels could present a major opportunity for connecting with both policy makers and the general public.

The study, a survey of 215 health and health-policy researchers comes as academic journals, public health agencies, and healthcare organizations increasingly use social media to communicate health-related information. It also comes at a time when the nation is embarking on major changes to the healthcare system and when health policy research evidence is increasingly important.

“Historically, there has been a significant communication gap between researchers, on the one hand, and policy makers and the public at large, on the other,” said senior author Zachary Meisel, M.D., assistant professor of Emergency Medicine at Penn. “Social media channels are promising tools for closing this gap, provided they are used appropriately and effectively. As a first step, medical schools and healthcare institutions should help to educate researchers on how to properly use these channels to circulate their research findings and discuss implications.”

Results of the study, published in Health Affairs, can be found here.

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