The Converging (Social Media) Conversations of Physicians and Patients

flickr: Kai Hendry

Most of my work focuses on engaging patients through social media. However, after spending last week at an EDUCAUSE conference (a nonprofit association whose mission is to advance higher education by promoting the intelligent use of information technology), I had an aha-moment about the convergence of patient and physician use of social media.

Although we have our share of early adopter physicians, such as KevinMD.com, Seattle Mama Doc and The Singing Pen of Dr. Jen, most physicians don’t truly engage through social media. In fact, many articles written for physicians on the subject of social media remind me of those 30-second televised drug advertisements. The first 10 seconds is spent raving about the benefits and the last 20 seconds is filled with warnings.

New and engaging technologies for physicians

Well, heed this…physicians open to engagement via social media are coming to your hospital or clinic. These newly minted physicians have not just been socialized with social media, but prodded into using new and engaging technologies by top medical schools.

This was made evident when I attended a presentation by Brian Tobin and Joseph Benfield of Stanford University. The pair shared their experiences of introducing iPads to incoming medical students. Although the iPads certainly helped in coursework, the most interesting insights for me were in the results of clinical use and the medical students’ own comments.

When asked about the usefulness of their iPads, one student said, “We can use iPad at home to check in on patients.” And when in clinics, these students used the iPads to look up reference material and to survey and collect data from patients. Having information so readily available using the iPad was conducive to patient-physician interaction.

Some examples of tablet use

Here are a couple of examples: when a surgeon is explaining to a patient where the incision will be made, the surgeon can easily access a graphic on the iPad to help the patient better understand the procedure; when collecting data on a patient’s pain level, a physician can input it and chart it immediately.

With this level of interactivity (not to mention efficiency), I see the seeds of convergence. I predict these tablets (be it iPads or another brand) will become a staple for physicians. And since this new generation of physicians is being trained to be comfortable with this technology, and since patients are already using similar tools to communicate, I predict the natural progression will lead physicians to begin communicating with patients through these tools via social media, Skype, email or designated chat rooms or other new media forms yet to be created.

Your experience may vary — are you ready?

Tobin and Benfield were dutiful in noting that the level of acceptance of the iPads at each hospital or clinic varies greatly – sometimes due to culture and other times due to Wi-Fi constraints. But I sense the time is coming in the near future when these tablets will become as much a part of physician attire as the stethoscope, and conversations with patients will take place using them.

Is your hospital or clinic ready to help foster this type of communication? What are you doing to prepare for it?


How we help

Hive Strategies helps health systems create HIPAA-compliant online communities for better health, lower costs and greater loyalty.

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