Connecting to Health via Social Media

From the HIMSS Monthly Insider section
By Carla Smith
04:12 PM
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Social media in healthcare takes on many personas—from patients connecting online with each other to share stories and advice, to checking out the Twitter feed of a favorite clinician or healthcare system.  Many organizations now share, or introduce, their news via social media. Others use the platforms to offer profiles and photos of staff, videos of surgeries, and virtual tours of a new children's wing or other area at health systems.

What is social media:  According to Gartner researcher Anthony Bradley, "Social media is an online environment established for the purpose of mass collaboration." 

A survey from PricewaterhouseCoopers conducted in 2012 found 41 percent of consumers responding said social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and online forums, play a part in choosing a hospital or physician.  

From my perspective, social media offers new and expansive avenues for patients and providers to connect and learn from each other. Some of the most credible examples of patient and provider interaction via web portals and information sharing via social media appears in case studies from winners of both the HIMSS Davies Awards of Excellence (www.himss.org/davies) and Stage 7 hospitals (www.himssanalytics.org/emram) as measured by the HIMSS Analytics Electronic Medical Record Adoption Model℠ (EMRAM). 

At HIMSS, our Connected Patient community offers monthly webinars with information on the role of social media in healthcare. The Social Media Task Force, composed of HIMSS members, helps patients and providers e-engage through social media platforms. 

These examples, from the February 2012 white paper the task force developed, illustrate how patients use social media to connect with each other and their caregivers.

  • Reading blogs written by other patients, and writing blogs themselves.  For example, Kerri Morrone Sparling (http://sixuntilme.com/about) was one of the first patients to blog about her experience with Type I Diabetes.
  • Dr. John Halamka, the CIO of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School in Boston, started writing about his wife's journey with cancer on his blog (http://geekdoctor.blogspot.com) in order to help other patients learn from their path.
  • Sharing stories on social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter. A 2011 news article describes what happened when a mother shared her son's condition with friends online and was prompted by one of the readers to go to the ER immediately.
  • Trisha Torrey was independently diagnosed with cancer by two laboratories, but discovered, due to her own persistence, personal research, and consultation with other providers, that she did not have cancer just weeks short of starting chemotherapy She began an online forum called AdvoConnection (http://advoconnection.com) to connect patients with patient advocates, and also moderates a patient empowerment forum on About.com.

Introducing the Personal Connected Health Alliance (PCHAlliance - http://pchalliance.org):

The Personal Connected Health Alliance is a first-of-its-kind collaboration designed to engage consumers with their health, and promote consumer-centered individual and population-based healthcare through the use of personal connected health (PCH) solutions, as a critical means of improving outcomes and relieving the burden on our healthcare system. This new focus brings together the Continua Health Alliance's  global plug-and-play interoperability Design Guidelines and product certification program, the mHealth Summit's  global networking events, industry education and thought leadership, and HIMSS' worldwide presence supporting locally-based advocacy and market development.

Social media in healthcare provides immediate access and engagement for anyone ready to join the conversation. But, the conversation isn't about technology. It is focused on interaction and engagement – connecting the patient and provider communities and others in healthcare eager to 'friend' social media and each other.