Since the Supreme Court ruling that stated the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is constitutional, we have seen more and more articles being published stressing the importance of technology and its utilization in the healthcare field in order to increase patient engagement.
An article posted on Health 2.0 News discusses the changing consumer and technological landscapes that are successfully driving change and how they should be applied in healthcare. The article, Solving Our Health Care Crisis: Does the Answer Lie in Social Media and the Internet? states “health care providers need innovative solutions that help them move the needle toward healthy outcomes, and more accurate, thorough insight into the lifestyles of their members and patients”.
The article uses the daily use of social media as an example of what will spark consumers’ involvement in their own care. Basically: tracking, accessing, sharing, and communicating. The author lists the ability of consumers to track their health, access to health professionals and others like them to pose questions and share experiences, and a wealth of information as essential in optimizing consumer engagement.
While technology has influenced and positively impacted almost every industry, the healthcare industry has been slow in its adoption when it comes to increasing consumer engagement. The time has now come where we see consumers monitoring their health via mobile applications and health tracking websites. With doctors and therapists inevitably seeing an increase in their patient load with the health reform it’s time for them to use these devices to increase the quality of care they provide.
The article emphasizes the use of digital technology by doctors: “Digital platforms also supplement and complement the patient-to-provider episodic relationship and fill the gaps between brick and mortar doctor visits”. Patients can now use these devices to communicate with their doctors effortlessly and access health information with the click of a button. We need doctors and therapists to take the next step in implementing these devices. As the article states, “amidst the ongoing controversy and debate surrounding health care reform, it’s become more and more evident that we’ll need to allow the consumer to take power over their own health and connect them to their provider through a dynamic, fast, safe and personal medium”. These “dynamic, fast, safe and personal mediums” are the smartphones and tablets that, according to Morgan Stanley, are within arm’s reach of 91% of smartphone users 24/7. Now that’s access.
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Co-authored by Bronwyn Spira, PT, and Mark Fields, PhD, MPH
As consumers we are using social networks to manage just about every aspect of our daily lives. From the way we rate and purchase items to the way we plan our next vacation, we depend on our networks to help us make decisions. We share our lives with others. We seek connection and access. We find value in our networks; they enrich us, expand our knowledge and extend our relationships. So how are we using these same networks to guide our health and our most important health decisions?
Today patients are participating actively in all aspects of personal health information. Patients are searching for the best knowledge and recommendations to empower themselves for a healthier life. Many turn to social network groups for support, reassurance and specific health news. A recent article entitled, Healthcare Performance Management in the Era of “Twitter” discusses how social networks improve patient care by connecting healthcare providers and consumers . According to the article, 61% of Americans are turning to the Internet for health information, particularly for consumer reviews and comments. “Internet-enabled communities of patients and providers are coming together to communicate and collaborate,” explains Brian Klepper, Ph.D., Healthcare Analyst and Consultant, Health 2.0 Advisors. “In so doing, these virtual communities are reshaping the way healthcare is delivered and consumed,” he says. Further, a recent Pew Internet Study suggests, “The Internet has changed people’s relationship with information. Our data consistently show that doctors, nurses and other health professionals continue to be the first choice for most people with health concerns, but online resources, including advice from peers, are a significant source of health information in the U.S” .
So how are healthcare providers using social media networks to engage and empower patients? Medical professionals are experimenting with many types of electronic tools to help manage health costs and improve the quality of care. Online social networks offer a unique platform allowing healthcare providers to connect with patients as a larger population. Providers can make recommendations for treatment, comment on the latest medical findings and respond instantly to patient inquiries. At Sarasota Memorial Hospital in Florida patients “tweet” their doctor when they have questions about their care. At Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center physicians keep connected with patients through Facebook so that they are notified of their recovery . During a real-time brain surgery in March 2009, doctors at Detroit's Henry Ford Hospital answered questions via “tweets,” broadcasting to more than 1,900 followers .
Other healthcare connector sites include PatientsLikeMe.com where patients can compare care options and outcomes with specialized groups . Sermo and Doximity are web and mobile based social networking platforms where physicians can share insights about medicine and specific cases.
Social media has created new possibilities for patient and provider communication. These tools allow healthcare communities to connect and form support networks that were unimaginable a short time ago. Such networks, in turn, create new platforms for healthcare providers to listen to their patients and provide them with resources to be more accountable. Networks empower recovery and increase the potential for better health outcomes. The power of a network depends on its activity and participation. Historically, healthcare professionals have been slow to adopt. In 2011, that rate of adoption has accelerated; we may finally be at a tipping point.
1. Cooper, L.F. and S. Aluise (2010) Healthcare Performance Management in the Era of "Twitter": Harnessing the Social Networking Phenomenon, www.hpminstitute.org/Era_of_Twitter.
2. Fox, S. (2011) The Social Life of Health Information, 2011 Pew Internet, www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2011/Social-Life-of-Health-Info.aspx.
3. Hanluain, D. (2011) Doctors Embrace Facebook, Twitter. Mobiledia, www.mobiledia.com/news/82375.html.
4. Hawn, C., Take two aspirin and tweet me in the morning: how Twitter, Facebook, and other social media are reshaping health care. Health Aff (Millwood), 2009. 28(2): p. 361-8.
Co-authored by Bronwyn Spira, PT, and Tejal Ramaiya, DPT, CSCS
Physical Therapist on social media…seems like an oxymoron. Facebook has 500 million users. When searching through twello.com (a twitter directory), of the 30.5 million profiles available, only 814 are physical therapists. These 30.5 million profiles are our consumers, people who are searching for valuable health care information. What’s ironic about this lack of physical therapist participation in social media is that of all the health care professionals out there, aren’t we the ones that are most likely to establish a trusting bond with our patients? Physical therapists, as a profession, are “people” persons and highly motivated learners. Then why are we so far away from social media, a medium which serves to establish relationships and a means for connecting people and engaging in conversation to gain knowledge?
There are a multitude of benefits to using social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. Not only do these sites help clinics connect with patients and peers, they are also a great way to educate patients on who we are, what we do, provide them with valuable information about their health, as well as monitor patient feedback about your business. Social media websites are an excellent source of new information for the busy physical therapist and make it easy to keep abreast of the latest evidence and trends in physical therapy, with very minimal effort required.
When engaging in social media, there are some guidelines to keep in mind with respect to ethics and patient privacy. Here are some things to consider when collaborating with patients and colleagues via social media.
- Plan what your professional goals are when developing a business page. Patient education, customer service, or simply as a means for connecting with other professionals to share ideas and common interests?
- Generate traffic to your page by adding pictures, videos, and talking about things that your patients will be interested in.
- “Friend” patients but instead, encourage them to “like” you on your page.
- Post unprofessional content.
- Respond to personal medical/therapy related questions.
- Post any identifying information about patients and don’t allow patients to identify themselves as patients.
- Discuss patient specific clinical situations.
Social media is starting to become a standard in how businesses connect with consumers and how professionals connect with other professionals. Why not jump on the social media bandwagon and provide health care information where patients and are searching for it?
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