Social media in healthcare is big! By that I mean big in terms of its impact on patient behaviour and expectations of their healthcare providers, and big in terms of how broad reaching and pervasive the social media phenomenon is.
Social media can be applied to numerous aspects of medical practice. It can be used in the following ways:
- A means to communicate with patients
- A mechanism to market and promote a practice
- A medium to collaborate and share knowledge and information with colleagues
However, committing to a social media strategy requires planning and effort. In addition to management of your patients, clinical records, and all of the other routine processes necessary to running a medical practice, social media require maintenance. If you have a practice website, blog, Twitter account, and Facebook page, each requires care and feeding. Social media are hungry for content or interaction and each minute that you devote is time that could be used for other purposes. This is not an attempt to dissuade you from integrating social media into your practice; it is simply a warning to enter with eyes open and realize that by becoming an author, publisher, or sharer of knowledge, there is an expectation that once you begin, you will continue.
Let’s focus on the use of social media to interact with patients. With hundreds of millions of people connected via Facebook, Twitter, and mobile devices, it is impossible to ignore the importance of peer interaction. In fact, using social media in healthcare delivery may very soon become a necessity versus a discretionary interest. If your key patient demographic is young mobile professionals, you may have no choice but to develop a strategy to interact via email, text messaging, or other forms of remote consultation such a tele-consults. The need to do so stretches the paradigm of how healthcare is delivered. There is not just a need to interact differently, but also to record the information in a cohesive medical record for future reference purposes. And, in a world of portals and personal health records, the ability to share the information securely and appropriately.
Ethical boundaries may also be stretched by social media in terms of how one uses tools such as Facebook to interact with patients. Is it acceptable to “Friend” a patient? What kind of information is it appropriate to share in an open forum (remembering that the content shared is forever available)? When do we cross social and ethical boundaries that begin to challenge the traditional physician-patient relationship? Is that good or bad and what are the legal precedents that need to be considered when information is shared?
When email first became ubiquitous as a communication medium, there was much hesitancy about whether it was appropriate to use email for clinical consultations. It is now a highly used and respected medium for store-and-forward referrals to specialists, professional communications, and as a means to provide non-urgent remote consultations. Even more than that, it is a reimbursable service through certain insurance companies and encouraged by healthcare organizations as a way to deal with non-urgent conditions without bringing patients into expensive emergency or acute care facilities.
Similarly, social media will find its place; however, we are still in the experimentation phase to a large degree.
Dr. Danny Sands is a pioneer in the use of social media in healthcare. Listen to a podcast by Dr. Sands by clicking here.
This post is the personal opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the American College of Physicians (ACP). ACP does not endorse a specific EHR brand or product and ACP makes no representations, warranties, or assurances as to the accuracy or completeness of the information provided herein.