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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8. More opportunities to participate in clinical research
Men, women, and children who want to do their part in medical research — especially inquiries into rare and serious diagnoses — can take part in polls and studies even faster than before. Rather than going through their healthcare providers, they can search social media sites (PatientsLikeMe has linked up with scientists for Nature Biotechnology before) for opportunities to help save some lives. While this access won’t significantly change doctor’s appointments, it does at least alter it somewhat, especially for the brave souls hoping to help others in any way they can.
9. Check certifications faster
The advent of social media also meant a brand new way for scammers and other sketchy opportunists to separate consumers from their money. Cardiologist and blogger Dr. Wes talks about a colleague offered a fake “board certification” in the industry, which he and his readers quickly identified as a complete fraud. Patients hoping to learn more about what their doctors and potential doctors have to offer have a much faster way of educating themselves about certification claims and other qualifications — or made-up qualifications, as it were. This will help them ferret out medical professionals who aren’t everything they claim.
10. Faster aid
Healthcare professionals working in isolated or impoverished regions, particularly those subjected to natural and political turmoil, use social media to let potential donors know what money and resources they need to better serve their patients. Mashable’s writeup about Floating Doctors discusses how their Facebook and Twitter feeds have proved necessary in helping them establish clinics in Central America and the Caribbean. For some patients, this assistance from abroad might very well mean the difference between life and death.
11. Remote diagnoses
Using social media and resources such as Skype can be a bit dicey in some situations, but in others, Floating Doctors have proven how essential they can be when forging an accurate diagnosis. One story they shared with Mashable involved a Haitian man whose arm was fractured and never properly treated, which resulted in a rare and bizarre condition. Posting videos to YouTube and pictures to Facebook and Twitter allowed other medical professionals to discuss what might have happened and possible treatment options. What resulted was a worldwide effort to get him all the care he needed, and as a result his arm eventually received the right attention from an orthopedic specialist!
12. Group visits
Obviously, scheduling group appointments causes quite a divide within the medical community, but some doctors swear by it as a means of building compassion and empathy between patients with similar conditions. Plus, those in resource-strapped areas or with clogged schedules use the setup in order to make what they have available stretch as far as possible. Social media, while not specifically referenced by the American Academy of Family Physicians, provides a private way for participants to coordinate meetings and discuss what they’ve learned when off the clock.
13. Online scheduling
Beyond online support groups, patients in most major American cities can use the Internet to schedule their appointments quickly and (relatively) painlessly under some healthcare plans. Services such as ZocDoc link up physicians and people in need of their care at no cost to the consumer — doctors pay for listings. USA Today quotes its appointments as comprised of 85% new users and 40% of appointments happening within a day of hopping online. There’s even an Android app available for scheduling with specialists, dentists, and more while out and about.
14. Insight into just what doctors do on a daily basis
Lauded physician and social media expert Dr. Kevin Pho of KevinMD.com thinks sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube demystify much of the responsibilities doctors face on a daily basis. Removing the shroud marks another strategy for establishing patient comfort. He touts that their knowing exactly how much paperwork his position entails fosters bonding, as it’s something to which so many of them relate. And this relative transparency helps quell some of the nerves that inevitably pop up.
This post originally appeared at Medical Billing and Coding.