Dan Bowman, in a recent article, quotes a family physician who feels social media has no place in healthcare. He asserts busy physicians don’t have time to add yet another technology to their already busy schedules. I see his point, but I have to challenge this.
Social media, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and many other sites has drastically changed the way people (a.k.a patients) communicate with each other. Accountable care, population management, and chronic disease management activities are all about enhanced communication with patients. It would be borderline negligent to ignore social media as a vehicle to enhance this communication.
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Patients have been trained from birth to delegate their healthcare decisions to their physicians. Most completely ignore healthcare issues and activities until they get too sick to overlook their healthcare trajectories. Reaching and training these patients before their disease becomes chronic is needed desperately to improve outcomes.
I can see a scenario where Facebook threads between the care team and the patient are used as reminders, updates, and information gathering tools for patient data. There is far less cost to train one or five care providers than to encourage hundreds of patients to learn a new system. Facebook is sticky. Today’s model is to build a patient portal site that requires patients to actively connect, sign-on, and interact. Most of them only do this when they have a specific need. Since they are already actively using Facebook, why not build sites that meet them on their own turf? This can still be done securely, easy to use, and relatively quickly.
Physicians have a great opportunity to market their services and reach their patients if they embrace Twitter. The key here is to build a following. Twitter is based on sending small sound bites to a group of followers. Followers are people who have chosen to listen to what the sender has to say. This is a marketer’s dream that the healthcare industry should consider embracing. Once a physician has built a group of followers, they should post links to wellness and diet tips, new practice offerings, and other general health improvement ideas. These posts will be immediately received by a list of patients who want to receive this kind of information.
Physicians who are too busy to learn about social media are missing a giant opportunity to educate and reach patients on their terms. The good news is some of this can be delegated. Hire an intern who already knows these tools and let them build an outreach. Assign this to a computer savvy administrator.
Social media has the potential to make a huge impact on healthcare. With some creative thinking, they not only mix, but can be a catalyst to drastically change patient motivation and interaction.