Will Social Media Revolutionize Healthcare?

Without a doubt. In fact, several medical providers and IT vendors are plowing ahead already.

Paul Cerrato, Contributor

September 19, 2014

4 Min Read

"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:

  • Second-generation patient portals and secure messaging systems that engage patients in their own care. Intuit Health and Medseek are prime examples.

  • Applications that track patients' movements as they transition from hospital to home to doctor visit to nursing home, making sure all the right data travels with them and all the right providers follow through on their care. Siemens' CareXcell comes to mind. This software, packed with a variety of collaboration tools, lets clinicians exchange clinical data easily and keep tabs on patients and specific staff responsibilities as patients move from place to place.

  • Social tools that provide doctors with ready online access to specialists to help manage tough cases and make complicated diagnoses. Doximity, Sermo, and QuantiaMD, for example, are basically Facebooks for doctors, letting them share their thoughts along with lab data, images, and other intelligence.

  • Tools that market and polish the reputations of provider organizations. Mayo Clinic, for instance, has drawn attention to itself and created a lot of good will by offering patients a variety of educational resources and a symptom checker to help them determine whether they need medical attention. It also gives patients access to their records and lets them make appointments and refill prescriptions online. Mayo's smartphone app encourages two-way communication with the Clinic.

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.)

About the Author(s)

Paul Cerrato


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 medical literature, including Business and Health and the Journal of the American Medical Association. He has also lectured at Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons and Westchester Medical Center.

Never Miss a Beat: Get a snapshot of the issues affecting the IT industry straight to your inbox.

You May Also Like

More Insights