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Customer Experience and Design

4 Benefits & 4 Drawbacks to Social Media in Healthcare

During the Perficient 2010 Q4 Earnings Call, our CEO Jeff Davis stated:

“One of the things that you’re seeing…is a demand for transparency in healthcare, and consumerism in healthcare, and really focusing on the end consumer, and social media may well emerge as a strong play there.”

Social media is atwitter with similar sentiment. A previous post, “Why Social Media in Healthcare?” resulted in important conversations on the topic during the first days of HIMSS 11. We have created this series, “Responding to Healthcare Consumerism with Social Media” in order to continue this important conversation. This series aims to identify the benefits and drawbacks of using social media and collaboration tools in healthcare, explore the doctor and patient communities currently interacting online, outline social media’s impact on the quality of care, and use current innovations to predict the future of social media collaboration in the healthcare industry.

We will begin this series by identifying the benefits and drawbacks of social media, and collaboration tools in general, for participating healthcare organizations. Ultimately, it is my hope that enthusiasm around these benefits, and problem solving around the drawbacks, will fuel creation of a more consumer-centric healthcare system.

Benefits of Social Media in Healthcare

  1. Quick Dissemination of Medical Information: There is a lot of bad medical advice available online, and healthcare patients are consuming this information at a record pace at their own peril. This highlights an incredible opportunity for healthcare organizations, by way of their marketing department, to demonstrate thought leadership in today’s most important healthcare topics, such as diabetes, allergies, and geriatric medicine. Through the dissemination of medical information that is accurate and actionable, healthcare organizations can not only improve general health and well-being but also grow patient rosters and the bottom line as a result. Other industries have learned that providing free content that demonstrates thought leadership often brings sizable rewards. Those same industries would be green with envy at the interest healthcare organizations would receive from the remarkable content they could create.
  2. Healthcare Access Across Vast Distances: Last week I was forwarded a blog post by Houston Neal titled Social Media Can Improve Healthcare, But Are Doctors Holding Us Back? In this post Houston states “Social media allows us to share information at a speed and distance that was once impossible. It presents a new opportunity to prevent, diagnose, and treat diseases. In some cases, even save lives. But we still need more engagement from healthcare professionals.” Having lived in both rural communities and a foreign country where I did not speak the native language, I can personally attest to the tremendous opportunity that healthcare organizations have through the adoption of collaboration and social media tools to provide quality care to individuals that may not have access to medical advice otherwise.
  3. Mechanism for Cost Control: As stated by Microsoft’s Dr. Bill Crounse (@microsoftmd) during the Meet the Bloggers forum at HIMSS11, social media is the most cost effective way to promote a message. Smart marketers already realize this, which is why smart marketing professionals were early adopters of social media. However, social media can go beyond the marketing department of healthcare organizations. Social media and collaboration tools can provide an incredibly cost effective way to monitor and dispense healthcare services. Healthcare organizations have an incredible opportunity to differentiate themselves as low cost providers of high quality medicine through the use of social media and collaboration tools. We will be exploring this very topic in great detail in a future post.
  4. Collaborative Nature of Social Media: In many cases, industries outside of healthcare become guinea pigs for technological advances that can be later used in the healthcare industry. Social media has, in countless instances, leveled the playing ground between companies and their consumers. Companies are now vigilantly perusing social media networks for traces of customer sentiment around their brand in hopes that they can react. They are also leveraging the power of social media offensively to build brand awareness, prove thought leadership, and innovate. Healthcare organizations have incredible opportunities to harness the power of social media to achieve these same ends. However, if healthcare organizations are slow to invest in the tools and functions necessary to respond adequately to healthcare consumerism, then they could be at an incredible disadvantage if social media takes over their brand while they are not looking.

Drawbacks to Social Media in Healthcare

  1. Privacy Concerns: Violating HIPAA privacy policies can result in stiff penalties. As such, the same open nature that makes social media appealing also increases concerns for healthcare organizations. There is little in the way of advice on the matter, and healthcare organizations have been shy with advancing social media policies of their own. Progress in this area, though slow, is forthcoming. Health and Human Services will be creating guidelines for social media use, and the American Medical Association recently released guidance to physicians using social media in their document Professionalism in the Use of Social Media
  2. Lack of Training in Collaborative Technologies: Many are intimidated by the rapid pace of social media, and doctors are no exception. As stated by Kevin B. O’Reilly of American Medical News, “There is little professional guidance to help physicians navigate connections with patients on Facebook, Twitter, and other sites.” My recommendation? Join social media and ask the healthcare social community some questions. Due to its very nature, social media is filled with highly collaborative people who are willing to help a newcomer. Veterans in social media enthusiastically provided advice to newbies at the Social Media Center at HIMSS11. If you are particularly interested in Healthcare IT, then you can view our white paper on getting started on our HIMSS landing page. (Insert shameless plug here)
  3. Limits on Holistic Patient Information: For obvious reasons, doctors are hesitant to provide medical advice to “online patients” when they have very little in the way of holistic medical history. Doctors have very good reasons for shining light in your eyes and listening to you breath during an office visit. Interacting with patients online admittedly limits a physician’s access to important information. As a result, this new social medium for disseminating healthcare services creates questions related to liability for misdiagnosis. The reactionary nature of laws, particularly in regulating the use of new technologies, make healthcare organizations very skeptical about the social media scene.
  4. Social Stigma: While there is a growing movement of physicians participating in social media, Dr. Ferdinand Velasco (@ftvelasco) and Dr. Joseph Kim (@drjosephkim) are two great examples, there is another group of physicians that look down on the practice. They may wonder if a “real doctor” would be navigating social networks. They also may wonder if social media compromises the existing patient/doctor relationship. With the popularity of physician-only social media outlets like Sermo, I’m confident that these questions will be worked out within the medical community to the benefit of social media as a whole.

So, what do you have to add to this topic? Are there any benefits or drawbacks that I have neglected to mention? I look forward to addressing this topic in further detail in future posts.

Recommended Links

Social Media Do’s and Don’ts by American Medical News

Five Recommendations from AMA by Health Populi

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Melody Smith Jones

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