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4/29/2014
09:06 AM
Alison Diana
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Healthcare Social Networks: New Choices For Doctors, Patients

Check out healthcare-focused social networks, where healthcare pros can collaborate and share resources online, and patients can access more than information.
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Like most people, healthcare professionals use mainstream social media networks to connect with friends and family. But almost one-third of them also join social networks focused exclusively on healthcare.

Within these communities, providers find medical advice and best-practices, job openings and career tips, research and product information, as well as the opportunity to securely communicate with peers. Patient-focused networks, often built around a particular condition or disease, give individuals and their families supportive communities where they receive comfort, insights, and potential leads on new treatments.

Healthcare social networks also address the industry's privacy and security mandates. The data mining practices of sites like Facebook and Twitter make some patients and providers leery of posting questions or comments. And while many healthcare organizations use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and other social tools to communicate with constituents, individuals often worry about posting information in the wrong place. By sharing data on specialized sites -- especially those that plainly detail their security and privacy policies -- healthcare professionals and other users can feel safer about expressing their thoughts.

"There's a certain distance [healthcare professionals] need to maintain from patients -- both legally and for their own sanity. Even a friend relationship [on Facebook] can be considered a privacy violation," Doximity CEO Jeff Tangney told InformationWeek earlier this month.

Doximity's 250,000 members represent about 40% of all doctors in the US, according to the company. Most of the free site's traffic consists of HIPAA-compliant one-to-one messages and discussion forums that focus on business challenges or diagnoses.

Healthcare professionals are increasingly turning to specialized online communities to seek advice, advance their careers, or look for new jobs. In 2011, 31% used social media for job searching, up from 21% the prior year, according to AMN Healthcare's "2013 Survey of Social Media and Mobile Usage by Healthcare Professionals." The report also revealed that 48% used these sites for professional networking in 2011, compared with 37% in 2010.

Networks aimed at doctors deliver additional benefits, says Jon Michaeli, senior VP of global community and marketing at free physician-only community Sermo. "Members have access to over 35% of the US physician population to engage in discussion on any healthcare topic in an open, collaborative environment," he told us.

For their part, patients access a diverse array of social networks designed around healthcare -- including specific diseases and conditions, research, and support. These communities encourage members to forge relationships, share individual stories, and become more informed.

CureDiva, for example, helps breast cancer patients and survivors, says co-founder Ester Gofer. Members choose their preferred level of content-sharing privacy. The site also sells items like wigs, bras, and radiotherapy wraps.

"When women visit the CureDiva site, they will have both an easy shopping experience from a large variety of products as well as suggestions and support from the online community of breast cancer survivors who have been in the same situation," Gofer told us. "A sense of family and comfort is formed because of the personalized experience as well as support from other women."

ConnectedLiving focuses on seniors, a rapidly growing population of users. Currently available through nursing homes, assisted living complexes, and other senior housing centers, ConnectedLiving plans to extend its secure private social network into senior users' homes, says CEO Sarah Hoit.

"We have an entire aging population that's disconnected," she says. "ConnectedLiving is not about maximizing the number of connections; it is about maximizing the meaning of connections."

ConnectedLiving users don't get Facebook-style friend requests from people they don't know, says Hoit. Instead, online and real-world friends are the same group -- but the virtual community allows seniors to see their grandkids' Instagram photos or share their own photos via ConnectedLiving.  

Social media aren't replacing doctor visits or in-person support groups, but some research suggests they may reduce unnecessary physician appointments. In a study, ConnectedLiving partner HP discovered that some users who had previously been spending days in bed or at the emergency room were transformed after joining the social network. "People are logging in nine or 10 times a day and not getting sick," Hoit says.

Special-interest social networks are playing a bigger role in healthcare. Check out these 12 examples. Which ones interest you?

Alison Diana has written about technology and business for more than 20 years. She was editor, contributors, at Internet Evolution; editor-in-chief of 21st Century IT; and managing editor, sections, at CRN. She has also written for eWeek, Baseline Magazine, Redmond Channel ... View Full Bio

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shakeeb
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shakeeb,
User Rank: Black Belt
4/29/2014 | 7:26:18 PM
Re: The Critical Ingredient: Trust
@Alison I agree with you. At the same time isn't it also important to look more in to privacy of the ones who has joined for these sites. 
shakeeb
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shakeeb,
User Rank: Black Belt
4/29/2014 | 7:22:40 PM
Re: The Critical Ingredient: Trust
How the privacy and confidentially is maintained on these sites if patients starts posting about their health conditions and sicknesses.  
shakeeb
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shakeeb,
User Rank: Black Belt
4/29/2014 | 7:19:47 PM
Re: Hello, HIPAA?
I believe this is much more convenient for both doctors and patients. And it seems more specific than the other social networks. 
asksqn
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asksqn,
User Rank: Ninja
4/29/2014 | 4:02:18 PM
Hello, HIPAA?
Wow, how does using social media to answer patient queries **not** violate HIPAA??  This is the most breathtakingly stupid idea I've heard yet. Any physician/HMO/PPO that wants me to contact my doctor via social media will be immediately removed as a provider.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
4/29/2014 | 3:44:12 PM
Facebook for medical discussions? No thanks
Even if you have your Facebook privacy settings dialed in, do you discuss medical matters on Facebook, readers?
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
4/29/2014 | 9:50:35 AM
Crowdsourcing Power
I'm struck by the power these social networks could hold, especially in light of the article I recently wrote on CrowdMed and its crowdsourced approach to healthcare. Having lurked and participated in several health discussion groups in the past, I can definitely see the advantage of joining a social media site dedicated to your profession or condition, especially if you feel comfortable about the site's privacy and data controls. No one understands a condition better than a fellow sufferer and nobody understands your job better than a colleague. Working in a position where you're prevented from speaking openly, having a forum where you can seek answers from fellow experts (shielding the patient's name, of course), is an invaluable service that gives medical pros access to a world (literally) of peers.
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
4/29/2014 | 9:45:22 AM
The Critical Ingredient: Trust
One reason doctors, nurses, patients, and others use these dedicated social networks don't simply create a Facebook group is privacy -- or, rather, the lack of privacy they perceive on Facebook. Organizations creating these healthcare-oriented social sites must keep this top-of-mind as they develop and grow their sites, especially as they consider new revenue sources. 
Ariella
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Ariella,
User Rank: Ninja
4/29/2014 | 9:33:23 AM
healthcare
sounds good. I'm all for patient choice and access to information.
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