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Docs Need To Be More Social

Social networks can help with goals including population and patient monitoring, care management, and care coordination--but physicians remain more likely to interact with peers than patients.

Ken Terry

October 20, 2011

4 Min Read

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15 Healthy Mobile Apps


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Physicians are more likely to use social media channels for education and communicating with peers than for interacting with patients, according to a new white paper from the CSC consulting firm, which lists 14 business goals for healthcare organizations that use social media. The paper also describes how healthcare providers can start to engage in this new method of online communication. But it fails to explain how they can overcome the reluctance of physicians to interact with patients via Facebook, Twitter, and other social media.

At present, the report notes, larger hospitals, academic medical centers, and pediatric facilities are most likely to be involved in social media. "Large hospitals are more likely to use it because they have large budgets," Jason Lee, the white paper's lead author, told InformationWeek Healthcare. They might need to spend more on legal resources to vet Facebook or Twitter entries, he added.

Some children's hospitals use social media for fundraising activities, he noted. Also, these hospitals treat teenagers, who are big Facebook users. It's also possible, he said, that the use of social media helps to relieve the stress that parents feel when a child is seriously ill.

[ Today's mobile devices have transformed medical care in unprecedented ways. For an in-depth look at exactly how clinicians are using these tools, tune into the InformationWeek Healthcare Webcast The Mobile Point of Care: Making the Right Choices]

Some of the business goals mentioned in the paper, including population and patient monitoring, care management, and care coordination, require physicians or other clinicians to communicate with patients through social media. But the authors point out that physicians are more likely to use these channels for education and communicating with peers than for interacting with patients.

A recent QuantiaMD survey confirmed this point. It also found that while a third of responding physicians had received an invitation to "friend" a patient on Facebook, 75% of them had declined the invitation.

The most frequently cited reasons for avoiding patients in social media, Lee said, are concerns about liability, privacy, and lack of reimbursement. "The reimbursement issue isn't insignificant," he said. "The fact that providers aren't reimbursed for communicating with patients by email has been observed as a disincentive for quite some time."

Nevertheless, the CSC report predicts that social media will play an increasing role in care management. The paper cites a program at the University of Iowa health system, which used Facebook to encourage medication adherence among teenagers who had received kidney transplants. In addition, the report says, online patient communities--which most doctors have avoided so far--are starting to be used "to bring payers, providers, pharmacists, and informal family caregivers around the care of an individual patient."

The report also speculates that data from home monitoring devices such as blood pressure cuffs or glucometers might someday be transmitted to a social media site.

"As technologies are adopted that allow clinical information to be shared electronically, either through an EHR or telemedicine, you'll be able to send blood pressure or weight or medication management data [to a provider's social media site]," said Lee. "These social media will provide just another way to do care management without requiring the traditional doctor's visit."

The use of personal health records in conjunction with patient portals and secure messaging is supposed to achieve the same goal. Why do care management through a social media website?

"Social media is where people go," Lee responded. "It's used more frequently now than email."

Studies show that Internet users spend about a quarter of their online time on social media sites, he pointed out. That's also a reason why patient education materials might be more effective if they're disseminated via social media, he added.

Social media can also help hospitals recruit healthcare workers. According to the report, a company named Sodexo "uses social recruiting to fill hospital positions in food services management, facilities management, and environmental services. The company also uses social recruiting to find and attract registered dieticians to hospitals."

Healthcare organizations most often use social media today for marketing, the report observes. For example, Kaiser Permanente has had a social media presence for several years, and the Mayo Clinic recently launched an online community site patterned after Facebook. By late September, 7,000 people had joined it. Because the site is not restricted to Mayo patients, Lee noted, it is a good branding and relationship management vehicle for Mayo.

About the Author(s)

Ken Terry

Contributor

Ken Terry is a freelance healthcare writer, specializing in health IT. A former technology editor of Medical Economics Magazine, he is also the author of the book Rx For Healthcare Reform.

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