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4/29/2014
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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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ayis@mdnetx
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ayis@mdnetx,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/10/2014 | 6:01:43 PM
important relationships
As a practicing radiologist, I find that many physicians are often unaware or not acquainted with many local doctors and referrers, let alone social media. Gone are the days when doctors would hang out and socialize in the doctor's lounge. We are too busy. At MDNetX we are leveraging big data to help physicians forge those important relationships with other physicians. Shameless plug, but please check us out! Thanks.
MikeS747
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MikeS747,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/24/2014 | 7:47:39 AM
Re: Next Wave Connect
Thanks for the useful information.
Trey B
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Trey B,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/1/2014 | 12:51:55 PM
Facebook is a threat to your privacy and future
People who have no life, or those who are trying to find one, migrate to Facebook. It's the largest voyeur website on the planet and if I check my page 3 times a year, it's more than enough. I ran a department for a business, and those who claimed they are social media experts, said we must be on Facebook or we'd not succeed. It's the furthest from the truth. We never made a single sale, and a positive review on Google hold 1000X more the weight in customer potential than any gimmick FB or those who profit on the hype can throw at you. As a result of facebook friends have reconnected, but at the same time people are stalked, have been murdered, marraiges have been busted up, there is zero privacy and as far as we know, Facebook has been completely compromised by government security agencies for no other reason to collect data and spy on zero threat individuals. I say Facebook is a threat to the freedom we once enjoyed.
David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
4/30/2014 | 5:15:27 PM
Next Wave Connect
Another site worth checking out, particularly for those who work in health IT, is Next Wave Connect, which I wrote about a few months ago -- good for comparing notes on topics such as ICD-10 and whether it's ever going to be implemented. They talked to me about broader ambitions for tackling other areas of healthcare operations, including clinical issues, but for now the communities are mostly IT focused.
Shane M. O'Neill
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Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
4/30/2014 | 4:16:54 PM
Re: Facebook for medical discussions? No thanks
Facebook's still a great place to crowdsource a subject (could be a health subject) and get quick answers from people you trust. But the site's very unsubtle method of slapping ads all over your newsfeed page based on the content of your posts is turning me off from posting anything at all.
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
4/30/2014 | 3:00:35 PM
Re: The Critical Ingredient: Trust
Absolutely, @shakeeb. I'm not a physician but some of the medical-focused sites seem really useful for doctors, especially the ability to interact and ask questions. I see the allure of online patient communities but I'd want to know my data wasn't going to be used in any way; I'd even want an opt-out button for anonymization of data, quite frankly. I'd also want to know who was behind the company and what would happen to data if the company was acquired or folded. If I did join, I'd definitely use an anonymous email with a pseudonym on both my email and account. (I know the IP address is a giveaway but at least the name is masked.)
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
4/30/2014 | 2:57:13 PM
Re: Facebook for medical discussions? No thanks
I've posted occasionally when I've had a headache or am exhausted, but I wouldn't go into any other details than that. Given Facebook's analytics and ability to track users, I won't even look up any disease on Facebook, to be honest! I'm scared they'll add it to my profile and the big database in the sky will have me listed with all sorts of things I don't have but was interested in learning about for whatever reason.
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
4/30/2014 | 2:54:46 PM
Re: The Critical Ingredient: Trust
If patients themselves choose to discuss their own conditions and symptoms, that's on them to some extent. And I fervently hope those that go this route choose NOT to log on via Facebook (I should have checked that; as I recall, most sites required email to register). In that case -- and on the sites I checked -- most people used obvious pseudonyms on the patient-focused sites. I'd recommend, as a best practice, sites suggest that in their registration pages.
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
4/30/2014 | 2:52:38 PM
Re: Hello, HIPAA?
From my understanding of these sites, even the sites that are exclusive to physicians do not discuss patients by name or other identifiable information. So they might talk about a male patient, in his 50s, who has diabetes and smokes, but they won't say it's James Smith of Cleveland.
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. 
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