Should doctors use social media?

Fall season is here and I relate that to being in the doctor’s office to treat some form of cold season illness for my 4 year old son. As working professionals, both my wife and I struggle to make the time to take our son and go visit the doctor. So, I started researching on alternate means of communications with doctors. I wondered why doctors don’t use social media to communicate with their patients.

Three reasons why doctors should not use social mediamy four year old son

As I started researching, I found Dr. Drummond’s opinion on why social media may not be worth their while for doctors. His three primary reasons:

  1. Doctors are very busy and they don’t have the time to actively participate in Facebook or twitter
  2. There is no return on investment as a Facebook post or login may not translate to additional revenue
  3. Social media being a fad.

That was very discouraging for me. Undeterred, I continued searching and found David Shaywitz’s article in the Forbes magazine about how senior physicians were concerned with information exchange between physicians and patients using social media. The physicians reasoned that the information could be interpreted incorrectly either by the physician or the patient leading to wrong diagnosis. As David pointed out in the same article, social media and the culture of medicine can coexist and can be a very powerful tool in the current world. Senior physicians, perhaps, are not able to envision a world of communication that empowers patients with greater information redefining doctor patient relationships.

Three reasons why doctors should use social media

Sal Khan, founder of Khan Academy, has pioneered “flipping the classroom” concept in education. With the help of the Khan Academy videos, students are learning mathematical concepts at home and doing their homework in school with the teacher. This helps the teacher spend more one-on-one time addressing very specific questions or re-explaining a specific concept to a student. Students, on the other hand, benefit from watching the video at home at their own pace without having to worry about the teacher going too fast or too slow in class. This enables the teacher to better track the progress of individual students in class and focus on students who need more help than others.  The same concept, if used in medicine, could become equally powerful. Dr. Howard Luks explains in his video the problem of an Achilles tendon tear and the available treatment options.  If the patient views the video at home and then goes into the doctor’s office, then the doctor can help the patient decide on the treatment options. The video makes the patient more knowledgeable about a specific ailment and makes the visit to the doctor’s office more consultative. As Dave Chase explains in his article, the Khan Academy philosophy can forge a real partnership between doctor and the patient. The doctor is able to provide valuable service by helping the patient in the decision making progress.

A great example of a doctor using social media is Dr. Natasha Burgert in her Kansas City, KS practice. By using social media, as Dr. Burgert explains in her blog, she was able to

  1. Increase patient traffic
  2. Increase her search ability on search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo.
  3. Improve her knowledge base by following leaders in pediatrics

I would love for my pediatrician to use the social media platform to provide information on wellness and treatment options for common illnesses. Some of the questions we ask during our visit are rote and I think both us as parents and the doctor would benefit if this information were available online. We would also gain from the pediatrician’s office being on social media to push out information about flu shots, seasonal illness and recommendations on general well being. This would provide the doctor’s office a new medium to connect with their patients. Stronger online presence, as seen in Dr. Burgert’s case, helps the practice grow and also form a stronger connection with their patients.  So the next time my son is sick, I would like to read what my pediatrician is recommending on her blogs, Facebook posts, twitter tweets and then go into her office with questions on treatment options. Now is that a good model for fee for service?



2 thoughts on “Should doctors use social media?

  1. These are interesting comments and you raise a number of points. I will do my best to provide some explanation as to why not every doctor is able to provide the same amount of information via blog etc as Dr Burget.

    First there is the issue of maintaining patient confidentiality and privacy which is essential in order to comply with regulatory and professional standards. Hence it is best if most of the information posted is of a more general nature.

    Second, there is the not insubstantial issue of return on the investment of time. For many individual doctors, spending a lot of time on web sites and social media could interfere with the time spent actually dealing with patients along with running their practices. As yet remuneration of online activity is not adequately addressed in many areas of medicine (although it is coming that in the not too distant future it may be-for eg the online tracking of monitoring devices).

    Third there is the issue of duplication and redundancy of effort. Currently there are a number of very good on line professional resource portals which do provide information on most medical conditions. These tend to be hosted and maintained by professional organizations as well as governmental type agencies. Hence for many busy Doctors it is easier to direct patients to these resources rather than to put the time and effort in to duplicate what may already be out there. This is in essence where content curation skills are now required, i.e. to bring together the relevant information and then value add to it prior to posting. As yet there are not that many individuals in the medical profession have this skill and hence why it seems that it is only some exceptional Doctors who are online.

  2. In case it’s useful to you, I research how U.S. adults are adopting technology, including social tools, particularly as it relates to health and health care. Here’s a Storify of a couple of talks on this topic, including my slides (download them to read the notes section, which contains links to full studies if you really want to dig in to the evidence).

    “Social media’s use in medicine”

    Essentially: if social media in health care is a fad then being human is a fad 🙂

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