Doctors making greater use of social media

By Jeff Rowe
10:54 AM

A new study shows doctors are increasingly frequenting various social media venues. But while some are viewing this as a generally positive development, it’s not necessarily clear that the recent trend will continue.

The study (PDF), jointly conducted by QuantiaMD, Frost & Sullivan and the Institute for Health Technology Transformation, “found that over 65% of physicians use some form of social media for professional purposes.”

The report’s writers note that their “definition of ‘social media’ includes not only social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, but also professional and patient networking communities specific to the medical field, blogs and sites such as YouTube.”

When considering the implications of the report, it might be best to divide the findings into two categories, one consisting of doctor-to-doctor communication opportunities, and the other including a range of venues that have at least the potential to incorporate doctor-to-patient communications.

On the doc-to-doc side, the study notes “online physician communities are driving clinicians’ professional use of social media, and they are used by 28% of physicians. Physicians are using these sites for a range of professional purposes, but educational objectives dominate at present.”

On the other side, the picture gets somewhat fuzzier. For example, the study points out that “although many physicians in our study are not well acquainted with online patient communities, two-thirds of physicians who are familiar with these communities say they have positive impact on patients.

“Most physicians who know about online patient communities,” the report continues, “say they are especially beneficial to patients with chronic illness, cancer and rare diseases.”

Interestingly, though, there are no numbers to back up this belief. Moreover, doctors also have some concern both about online patient communities and whether, or how, doctors should participate in them.

“Topping these concerns,” the report notes, “is the potential for misinformation. One physician said, ‘These sites lack a way to ensure information is correct and if information is general or applies to an individual.’ Alternatively, some physicians view these sites as forums for complaining about the medical community rather than fostering dialog about how best to use it.”

While the report is new, we won’t be surprised if HIT advocates hold it up as yet one more sign of things to come.

For example, this observer says, “The fact that patients and physicians are converging toward a ‘yes’ in online interactions for health is a necessary ingredient for connected and participatory health.”

But we’re inclined to take more of a wait-and-see attitude. After all, there’s still a significant percentage of providers who haven’t latched onto social media, and if the concerns noted above aren’t addressed, providers may become increasingly reluctant to embrace the technology.

What would perhaps be most useful, to doctors and policymakers alike, is if a future study could link improvements in health outcomes to the use of social media. The fact is, though, it’s just too soon to tell.


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