Social Media in Healthcare…Medicine for the Masses: Part 3

It’s time for installment number three of our blog series discussing social media in healthcare.  Quick recap, in our first post, we took some time to get a full picture of how social media is currently being used in healthcare.  If you missed that post, check it out here.  In the second post, we looked a little more closely at the reasons it is challenging to use social media in healthcare and some of the fears hospitals and doctors have in regards to social media.  If you missed that post, read it here.

For part three, the plan is to get a little more specific in understanding doctor/patient relationships.  The relationship between a doctor and his or her patients is extremely important to the overall healthcare process.  It is important that patients have a certain level of trust in their healthcare providers.  I mean, this person is giving me advice, prescribing medicine, performing procedures that directly impact my health.  This should be an individual that I would literally trust my life with.  Let’s start with how patients can use social media to increase the value of their healthcare.

I remember when I was a little kid, I started going to a new family doctor.  I was about five years old at the time.  Naturally I wasn’t too eager to trust this adult that I had never met before.  However, after a few visits, I started to feel more comfortable around this doctor and after a few years worth of visits, I would say I really trusted this guy.  My trust grew as I got to know my doctor a little more, and as his health advice and procedures worked the way he said they would.  Let me make one thing clear: Nothing can replace this kind of relationship growth.  The best way to gain trust for someone is interaction over time.  But what should I do now?

I just moved to Kansas City, truly away from home for the first time.  For the first time in my life (at least what I can remember) I am looking for a new doctor.  I have absolutely no clue where to start.  I want to be sure to pick the right person, someone I can trust, but have no way of getting information about the doctors in my area without visiting each one right?  Wrong.  According to Q1 productions 60 million consumers interact and discuss their health-care online. Over 320 hospitals have Twitter accounts with almost 250 hospitals on Facebook.  In my research for these posts, I came across some pretty interesting resources for people in the exact same situation I’m in.  There is a great article on Mashable called Smarter Healthcare: How Social Media is Revolutionizing Your Doctor Visits. If you have a few free minutes, it’s definitely worth thumbing through.  The article mentions a few online services that help in finding doctors.  I’ve listed them below:

  • Vitals- Will give you information about a doctor based on a variety of data, or will help you find the doctor you need
  • HealthGrades- An independent healthcare rating organization that grades healthcare providers on a variety of variables
  • Find a Doc- Service that helps you find the right doctor based on consumer ratings
  • Rate MDs- Similar to Find a Doc, a service that lets you give your doctors a rating and allows you to view what others thought as well
  • ZocDoc- Service that helps you find a doctor in the area and even lets you schedule an appointment online (unfortunately, this is only available in NYC)

In the first post, I mentioned some facts about how Americans search.  If you missed those, go back and look at them.  The bottom line is, people use the internet to research their health.  There are great sites like WebMD, Revolution Health and Yahoo! Health that provide accurate health information to individuals.  Chances are, a patient will feel much more comfortable asking a doctor questions if he or she has already done some research on their own.  Using these resources can help patients learn what questions to ask and what words to use when discussing an issue with a doctor.  There is also a large number of Facebook groups (roughly 1,200!) that advocate finding a cure for specific diseases.  This could be a great way to get information on a disease and learn how you can help find a cure.

So great, patients can use social media to strengthen the doctor patient relationship, but how does a doctor or healthcare professional do the same?  This gets a little trickier.  Recall the Children’s Mercy social media panel discussion I mentioned in the first two posts.  If you still haven’t watched the video, do so here.  Ben Dillon (Co-owner of Geonetric, a web software solutions company that focuses on healthcare) was one of the speakers.  He made some great points about how hospitals and doctors can use social media to the benefit of the doctor/patient relationship.  Mr. Dillon stated that a lot of Geonetric’s clients are hospitals trying to learn how to engage patients with social media and mentioned two specific ways that hospitals can leverage social media to increase benefits to patients.  The first is enlisting patients to blog about the hospital.  This is a great way to provide unofficial information about the hospital to potential future patients.  Brilliant.  This could ease some of the fears regarding regulations about what can and cannot be said by a healthcare professional.  It is also a great way to involve patients that were really satisfied with their care.  The second way was having doctors post a blog.  The idea here is to keep the topics general.  You don’t need to get specific or provide details.  This does two things: It gives the the patient a feeling of familiarity with the doctor and showcases the doctors expertise.

In the second post of this series, I mentioned a New England Journal of Medicine article called Practicing Medicine in the Age of Facebook. The author of this article presents some very real fears experienced when a former patient friended him on Facebook.  This is the type of situation that gives doctors and other healthcare professionals nightmares: Interacting with or mentioning patients accidentally online.  In fact, Mr. Dillion mentioned a client of his that had recently fired four nurses for talking about patients online.  The regulations are tight, there’s no way around it. An article on iHealthbeat.org entitled Social Media in Healthcare: Barriers and Future Trends makes a great point about hospitals walking a fine line.  The issue is that hospitals and doctors want to provide health care information online, but want to avoid giving healthcare advice online.  A doctor can be held accountable for healthcare advice, but objective information is less of an issue.  The article simply states that doctors have to be careful and make sure the information posted online is generic and information only, not advice.  This is not meant to scare anyone away from the space, the benefits are too important.  The more familiar a patient feels with his or her healthcare provider, the more likely it becomes that this individual will follow the healthcare provider’s advice.  In the same way, the more a doctor or nurse knows about a patient, the more individualized advice he or she can give to that patient.

If you have time after reading this post, please check out all of the links.  A lot of these resources provide some great information and insight on the issue.  Also, be on the lookout Thursday, July 15 for the final post of this series.  We’ll do a recap of what we’ve uncovered so far and take a glimpse into what the future holds for social media and healthcare.