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Social Media Changes Healthcare Landscape

New book explores the shifting role of the patient thanks to Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook, and warns that this phenomenon shouldn't be ignored.

10 Mobile Health Apps From Uncle Sam
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Although meeting federal Meaningful Use requirements remains a critical focus for health IT professionals, authors of the new book Social Media for Nurses say the social media phenomenon warrants equal attention. "They can't go off into Meaningful Use and miss this," warned co-author Ramona Nelson, professor at Slippery Rock University, in an interview with InformationWeek Healthcare.

Nelson wrote the book along with coauthors Debra Wolf, PhD, associate professor of nursing at Chatham University, and Irene Joos, PhD, associate professor of information systems and technology at La Roche College. Nurses need to be good communicators, Nelson contends, and increasingly, that will include communicating via online, social communities, including Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Social media, Wolf predicts, will become a "large part of healthcare" due to the number of people with chronic illnesses who can't access care other than in a virtual setting. "We need to begin preparing the population and future healthcare providers for this road," she said.

[ For another point of view on PHRs, see Why Personal Health Records Have Flopped. ]

As patients increasingly turn toward social media to access healthcare and self-diagnose, the patient-provider relationship is changing, the book argues. The first step in this change came when patients gained access to medical information online. Now they're adding the power of crowd sourcing, which means the healthcare industry isn't just seeing a more educated patient but also patients interpreting information and, essentially, becoming a member of their healthcare team.

"Patients are becoming our colleagues," said Nelson. "It's changing relationships and the kinds of questions and services a patient asks for."

Some providers believe that healthcare can be provided only in a face-to-face visit, said Nelson. Although that sometimes is the best means to quality health care, she said, "it's not the only means and can actually limit the value of healthcare delivery if practiced exclusively. … Social media has become so integrated into our lives and health care, and we believe it must be incorporated into health care [curricula] and policy."

With healthcare becoming increasingly virtual, said Wolf, it's becoming the provider's responsibility to direct patients to the best online resources.

Looking ahead, Wolf advises that nurses and practitioners need to incorporate social media into a strategic plan to determine how they're going to use different platforms and extend services through them. This plan, she said, should be created from a clinical perspective as well as an IT perspective, allowing for an interdisciplinary approach.

"Clinicians in services may not understand websites or synchronized information versus unsynchronized information," she said. "They need the wisdom of an IT person to get them out there virtually."

Mobile applications are the new way to extend government information and services to on-the-go citizens and employees. Also in the new, all-digital Anytime, Anywhere issue of InformationWeek Government: A new initiative aims to shift the 17-member Intelligence Community from agency-specific IT silos to an enterprise environment of shared systems and services. (Free registration required.)

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Nathan Golia
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Nathan Golia,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/23/2013 | 3:23:19 PM
re: Social Media Changes Healthcare Landscape
Health insurers are also looking for secure ways to meet policyholders' desire to talk health online. Perhaps there is a place for practitioners and insurers to work together on health-based social networks that protect personal information while offering real help and solutions to people with chronic illnesses.
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