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?