Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Social Networking; Is this the answer to better care?

And the list goes on...
     These days it's difficult to escape the technical world. There are more and more technical advances that have crept into our daily lives as compared to 10 years, 5 years, 3 years or even 1 week ago! For some of us, to be without our smartphones for more than 10 minutes can mean the difference between a lost connection and sheer panic for missing the latest news 'tweeted' by our favorite celebrity. And there's one for you, who knew that the words 'Facebooking or Tweeting' would be acceptable action verbs?! But that's exactly the world we currently live in. According to a Nielsen survey from May 2011, 38% of all mobile phone users are smartphone users ( This means that more people have greater access to information at their fingertips or thumbs than ever before. But with all of these technical advancements and access to information, what is the impact to individuals using this technology to not only access information but also change their behavior based on their interaction with the technology? Does having more access to information lead to a more engaged consumer of healthcare? And what's the right balance between the personal interaction and technical tools interaction that leads to the desired behavioral changes?
     It has been documented that the doctor-patient office visit averages approximately 7 minutes after the doctor has gone through the information they need to complete the visit. That 7 minutes doesn't leave much time for patients to get the information from the doctor, process it, ask questions, and get additional answers on how to improve their health. But with patients relying more and more on information gathered from the internet to influence office visits, many doctors have expressed a frustration with the idea of so much information. A survey by Iverson, Howard, and Penney (2008) in JAOA categorized the frustrations in two areas, "reduced physician influence and increased time and cost burdens on physicians and the medical system that result from patient questions and requests for inappropriate testing or treatment".1 And how can you really fault the physician's for getting frustrated? I mean, if you had to answer every single question that a person may find on some website that may or may not be a credible source to begin with, how much of your work day could you make it through? And as one local physician quipped during a radio interview, of the reams of paper they may come in with, the majority of that information may be irrelevant to their specific situation. But technology does have it's place. That same article by Iverson et al concluded that the online research work of patients does have benefits related to enhanced engagement and participation by the patients in their own health care. And at the end of the day, isn't that what we want from patients? A vested interest in their own health outcomes.
     Now how does Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and now the newest kid on the social space block Google+ get factored into the discussion. Is it ok to 'friend' your primary care physician and bombard them with questions as you come up with them? And what about that always hovering cloud of HIPAA regulations and its effect on these social interactions. Will the regulators swoop in and snatch a physicians license for responding to your question in an 'open space' where there was no expectation of privacy? The July 2011 issue of Healthcare IT News tackled the conversation of 'to tweet or not to tweet'. Because of the convenience of social sites like those just mentioned, there is a feeling among many that this is a great way to stay connected and get those much needed answers right from that respected source. And as the article states, if hospitals and clinics are not implementing some sort of strategy related to social networks then they are missing out! This interaction can not only be a tool for getting information out but also receiving information on the latest news and topics that can influence a physicians day-to-day practice. At the end of the day, 'best judgement' is a great way to steer clear of HIPAA violations.
     For better or worse, technology has changed, informed, and influenced our world in a way that will never be the same. With continued advances in the computing world (how many iPad like tablet's are on the market these days compared to 6 months ago?) and advances in the smartphone market, the amount of information at our thumbs is like we've never seen before. So while it's great to have access to all the 'cool' tools related to technology and the never ending avenues of information for patients and physicians, will patients really become engaged consumers that change their behavior because of a Tweet their physician sent them? Or will the ream of questions that patient brought into the office last week now be answered during a video-call between the patients primary care physician and the specialist that patient sees while the patient is Facebooking with their relative across the country whose comforting the patient and providing virtual moral support? I don't know, but that patient is really engaged!
We want to hear from you. What are your thoughts on the use of social media for health care purposes? Have you Facebooked or Tweeted your health care professional?

     1 - Iverson, S., Howard, K. B., and Penney, B.K. (2008). Impact of internet use on health-related behaviors and the patient physician relationship: a survey-based study and review. Journal of American Osteopath Association, 108(12), 699-711.

Stay in touch - 
Listen Online:
Facebook:  Community Conversations- The TRIO
Twitter:  @TheCCTRIO
YouTube: The CCTRIO3


  1. Excellent post well ! is one of the best source of social network which providing you real platform of activities. So you can visit it from anywhere of the world.

  2. Social Media should remain just that "social". The information related is not vetted for accuracy. The sources of the information if provided can not be substantiated. Incorrect information, that is scandalous, is propagated much more quickly that accurate information, useful information, that is mundane.

    It is hard enough for a lay person to sort through all the conflicting information on various web sites as it relates to health. Social media, certainly, is the last place I would use as a source for information regarding my health.

    Unless my doctor is my "actual" friend I would not consider connecting with them on social media. Asking personal question related to my health is absolutely out of the question.

  3. Thanks for your thoughtful feedback Troy. You touch on an important point that has come up on our show previously, how's a lay person supposed to distinguish the quality of all the information available on the web?

    Side note, nice work you are doing.