In 2006, Pew Research Forum discovered that 80% of American adults used the Internet to research medical information. By 2011, data (separately) compiled by Frost and Sullivan and QuantiaMD showed between 87% to 90% of physicians used at least one social media site for personal reasons, with a further 67% to 75% opting for more professional postings. LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, blogging, and the like stand poised to change the face of healthcare in the exact same manner it pretty much did for most other industries. Medical professionals — not just doctors — have discovered some creative (and not-so-creative) ways to apply the technology to many different aspects of their field, meaning savvy, Internet-literate patients should stay on the lookout for what might lay ahead.
1. Better information and support
PatientsLikeMe serves as a social media site for individuals with various conditions to connect and share their experiences and treatment options that work and do not work for them. As the site grows, so too does participants’ knowledge of what’s happening to their bodies, making it easier for them to communicate with their doctors about possible treatments, rare and common symptoms, and more. In addition, banding together with others in their situation offers necessary comfort and understanding patients might not necessarily receive from even the most well-meaning loved one.
2. Greater risk of compromised confidentiality
Don’t panic; the vast majority of doctors probably won’t be Alexandra Thran, a Rhode Island physician fined for posting enough information online for readers to recognize her patient. All the same, though, savvy consumers should pay attention to their new and old doctors’ Internet presence for signs of breaking confidentiality. The threat might be minimal, but that doesn’t mean patients should grow complacent when it comes to their health and safety.
3. More balanced drug information
In order to counterbalance Big Pharma’s massive social media presence, doctors such as immunologist and allergist Ves Dimov utilize their Facebooks and Twitters to perpetuate more scientific studies proving and disproving the information advertised. Doing so, they feel, will better educate their patients about what drugs they may or may not need when seeking treatment. Be forewarned that many healthcare professionals receive kickbacks, so stay wary of those who seem to eagerly push one specific brand over another. Researching and asking around will dredge up the most trusted professionals speaking on the subject.
4. Better patient interaction
Outside the office, doctors have been known to use social media to let patients ask broad(!) questions without having to schedule appointments for every last one. Some use printouts with diagrams, charts, and links to other resources — including Facebook and Twitter sites — where they can learn more. Dimov highly recommends this heightened interactivity because it provides a much clearer picture about the conditions in question and a faster forum for educating the ailing. He also thinks blogging holds more than a few merits for medical professionals looking to connect with one another and those they are meant to heal.
5. Increased trust in the patient-doctor relationship
For doctors and medical centers such as La Jolla Cosmetic Surgery Centre, social media means attracting more people. Patient testimonials make their services seem more attractive to potential patrons, nurturing a greater sense of trust in a wider range of consumers. According to US News & World Report, it also hosts polls on various subjects and throws “virtual birthday parties for its doctors.” Such connectivity makes it easier for those considering their services to know whether or not the overarching climate will prove a satisfying fit.
6. More informed doctors
Not only does social media (when used responsibly, anyway) better educate patients about the medical field, it also results in doctors better versed in the latest news and views within their industry. In a post at the well-regarded blog KevinMD.com, Dr. Natasha Burgert reflects upon how one year working with Facebook and Twitter greatly enhanced her pediatrics. She lauds the technology as essential to staying on top of research (many leading medical journals now boast a social media presence) that could better benefit her patients and increase the level of trust between them.
7. Details about what to expect from specific procedures ahead of time
Doctors, hospitals, medical schools, and even the National Library of Medicine have all established YouTube accounts with everything from lectures to step-by-step walkthroughs of surgical procedures available. For patients nervous about an upcoming appointment, whether routine or critical, watching everything unfold might ease the anxiety before setting foot inside the facilities. Or at least familiarize them with what to expect once everything begins. The popular site’s offerings also tie into the overarching educational benefits social media grants to professionals and consumers alike.
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