Thursday, September 27, 2012

Doctors Use Social Media to Connect With Patients

Recent articles suggest that social media is finding a home among some doctors for creating better awareness and engagement among patients.
As reported in a previous article, the healthcare industry is recognizing the potential for social media to strengthen the connection within the community for existing healthcare centers, patients, and physicians, while attracting new followers / patients.

“The healthcare industry is using social media to get the word out, "engage and educate" followers, and start a digital dialogue to connect and collaborate more effectively with their communities.”

- From Examiner article Social media grows as force in healthcare May 25, 2012
Research on the subject revealed these findings from recent articles.

There's a stereotype that says doctors shun technology that might threaten patients' privacy and their own pocketbooks. But a new breed of physicians is texting health messages to patients, tracking disease trends on Twitter, identifying medical problems on Facebook pages and communicating with patients through email.

So far, those numbers are small. Many doctors still cling to pen and paper, and are most comfortable using e-technology to communicate with each other — not with patients. But from the nation's top public health agency, to medical clinics in the heartland, some physicians realize patients want more than a 15-minute office visit and callback at the end of the day.
Kansas City pediatrician Natasha Burgert offers child-rearing tips on her blog, Facebook and Twitter pages, and answers patients' questions by email and text messages.

"These tools are embedded in my work day," Burgert said. "This is something I do in between checkups. It's much easier for me to shoot you an email and show you a blog post than it is to phone you back. That's what old-school physicians are going to be doing, spending an hour at the end of the day" returning patients' phone calls, she said.

“Thomas Lee's business cards are stamped with the link to his Facebook page. The orthopedic surgeon actively tweets, checks in regularly on FourSquare, and maintains a GooglePlus profile. And he does it for his patients. "It's an electronic way of extending the conversation," says Lee, who practices at Orthopedic Foot and Ankle Center in Westerville, Ohio. "It creates a vibrant sense of community and a wonderful back-and-forth dialogue."

Social media makes it easier than ever for patients and physicians to connect outside the exam room. And while most of the attention has centered on hospitals' efforts, which are often driven by marketing and have relatively large budgets, primary care and other private-practice doctors are building an online presence.
More than 1,300 doctors have already registered with, a database of physicians who tweet. "These are powerful, tremendously influential tools," says internist Kevin Pho of Nashua, N.H., a blogger who engages with his patients via Facebook and Twitter. "Doctors should be taking advantage of the opportunity."
Beyond link-sharing, doctors are still wary about engaging with patients. Personal questions should still be handled through doctor's office visits or phone calls.

As a profession, doctors have a significant interest in the potential applications of social media to patients and other clinicians. They illustrate interest in online physician communities and patient communities that may facilitate doctor-patients interactions.

A small group of “connected clinicians” use multiple social media platforms for both personal and professional use.

Key points from this QuantiaMD study:

  • The majority of doctors use social media. Facebook is the most popular medium for personal use. Online physician communities are more popular for professional use.
  • Doctors who are familiar with patient portals or communities agree that they have a positive impact an individual’s health, but awareness of these social media sites is low.
  • 28 percent of doctors use professional physician communities, with the goal to confer, refer and learn from experts.
  • Clinicians approve and see the benefit of electronic interactions with patients to improve access and quality of care, but many are concerned about patient privacy, liability and compensation for these activities.
  • There remains a significant need for secure and convenient forms of interactive communication tools that doctors can use to talk with each other and patients.
  • 20 percent of clinicians use two or more social media sites for personal and professional use.
These so-called “connected clinicians” are very eager to use social media to improve health care.
-  From Healthcare Communication News 6 facts about doctors using social media platforms February 22, 2012
“Twitter helps to push information out to people faster and more conveniently than any other medium. It helps us to stay in touch with our community in an easy and convenient way,” said Jim Rattray, vice president of Marketing and Public Affairs for Southcoast Health System, who used snow cancellations as another example of Twitter’s best use.

“Facebook allows for more information and allows people to come together in the same place, another way to stay connected to people and provide information on resources and services that is convenient and efficient.”

In other examples:
—Public health officials in Santa Clara County, Calif., have posted YouTube videos warning kids about excess sugar in sodas and juice boxes. And health agencies in San Francisco and Washington, D.C. have used text messages to send safe-sex advice to teens, including what to do when a condom breaks.
—Dr. Jennifer Dyer quit her pediatrician job in Columbus, Ohio, last year to start a social media-based patient education company after running a small study that showed text messages helped her teenage patients better manage their diabetes. She's creating smartphone apps that will do the same.
—The famed Mayo Clinic holds "Tweet camps" to train its doctors how to use Twitter appropriately, said Lee Aase, director of Mayo's Center for Social Media in Rochester, Minn.
Says Aase, "If we can trust doctors with sharp instruments and narcotics, we can trust them with Twitter and Facebook."

And while getting a wall post on Facebook from your doctor may seem innocuous, such acts can lead to awkward situations, privacy violations or wrong information, say experts.

"A lot of stuff is people sharing too much information that should either be left confidential, or in some cases information that shouldn’t be shared because it’s not true," said Ryan Greysen, assistant clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.

While some doctors embrace social media as a way to facilitate doctor-patient interactions among some online physician communities and patient communities, still some reservations exist for sharing too much information, type of content shared, the appropriate way to engage, and privacy issues.

A few "best practice" tips and guidelines for physicians should include:

  • Do not blog about speciļ¬c cases, or reveal any customer data
  • Do not offer medical advice or any remedy that would require a doctor visit first! 
  • “Engage and educate” – don’t diagnose
  • Do share something of value - recommend other sites, articles, links, tools, tips
It’s safe to say social media is here to stay and an integral part of our culture now.  Social networks have become a different communication channel and our “online voice”.

Social media will continue to evolve, just as technology advances will provide new tools and enhancements to what we currently use for engagement.
A new breed of doctors is embracing the e-technology and using multiple social media platforms for follow up and engagement.

These “connected physicians” are texting health messages to patients, leveraging Twitter to track disease trends, and using Facebook to share links, articles, and identify medical problems.

They are giving their patients what they want and found a better way to engage them via the online communities of social networks. They are learning to “fish where the fish are” and connect in better ways, after realizing patients expect more than a 20 minute office visit and a callback at the end of the day.

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