"For healthcare, this represents a veritable social revolution."
That bold statement about the value of social networking sites, wikis, blogs, and other online forums in patient care comes from Katherine Chretien, MD, of Washington DC VA Medical Center, and Terry Kind, MD, of The George Washington University School of Medicine.
It's uncommon for reserved academics to speak of revolutions, but their enthusiasm is warranted. The list of potential healthcare applications for social media and collaboration platforms is almost limitless.
As I mentioned in my last column, IT-enhanced care coordination is already having an impact, making care safer and more effective. But the tools used by Dr. Matthew Press that were highlighted in that article -- email, phone calls, and EHRs -- are child's play compared with the sophisticated collaboration platforms coming online now. At least four application types come to mind:
Granted, most EHR systems have the capacity to do many of the things detailed above, but clinicians complain that they're difficult to use and often don't interoperate across healthcare providers.
[Here's why healthcare providers should support investment in IT: IT-Enhanced Care Coordination Really Works.]
In a recent interview with the Huffington Post, David Chou, CIO at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, opined that social media "is rapidly becoming a preferred medium for patient-to-physician, patient-to-patient, and physician-to-physician communication."
For example, some large medical centers now have online support programs that let patients with the same disease share experiences and coping skills with one another. Mayo Clinic, Massachusetts General Hospital, Henry Ford Hospital, and Geisinger Health Systems encourage clinicians to use social media tools to engage patients and build loyalty, says Will Reese, chief innovation officer at Cadient Group, a marketing agency near Philadelphia. They also have dedicated communications teams to send consistent messages to the public, he says.
Of course, there's a downside to using social networking in healthcare. Some patients get carried away once they realize their doctor is available online, pestering the doctor with every minor ache and pain. It's why providers must set clear guidelines on patient-doctor communication. Clinicians also complain that they're not adequately compensated for the time they spend responding to patient messages. And the Chretien/Kind commentary referenced above cautions against establishing new patient-doctor relationships online rather than in person.
Those issues notwithstanding, the industry needs to join this revolution. And to do that will require the powers that be to give up their risk-averse mindset. It needs to be open to new possibilities.
If the world wasn't changing, we might continue to view IT purely as a service organization, and ITSM might be the most important focus for IT leaders. But it's not, it isn't and it won't be -- at least not in its present form. Get the Research: Beyond IT Service Management report today. (Free registration required.)Paul Cerrato has worked as a healthcare editor and writer for 30 years, including for InformationWeek Healthcare, Contemporary OBGYN, RN magazine and Advancing OBGYN, published by the Yale University School of Medicine. He has been extensively published in business and ... View Full Bio