A wave of social media technologies, such as electronic mail, text messages, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Skype, now allow people to more easily communicate within personal and professional networks.
According to a 2009 report by the Pew Research Center and the California HealthCare Foundation, "61% of Americans are turning to the Internet for health information-particularly for consumer reviews and comments." The Social Life of Health Information found that "59% of people did at least one of the following activities online: read someone else's commentary or experience about health or medical issues on an online news group, Web site, or blog; consulted rankings or reviews online of doctors or other providers; consulted rankings or reviews online of hospitals or other medical facilities; signed up to receive updates about health or medical issues; or listened to a podcast about health or medical issues."1
Utilizing social media and communications technologies is essential to a strong networking and patient-centered strategy. The advantages of these technologies include the ability to link with large groups of people regardless of geographic limitations, speed the sharing of information (in real time instead of days), and access a diverse spectrum of perspectives.
Let's take a look at a few social networking applications that can prove beneficial to you and your patients.
Twitter. Produced in 2006, Twitter is a growing communication technology that is widely used throughout the world. Twitter enables individuals to send short messages (up to 140 characters long) to anyone who signs up to follow that particular account holder. The messages can be received by mobile phone or by the Internet via third-party programs, such as Tweetdeck.
Facebook. Launched in 2004, Facebook has become one of the fastest-growing social networking services around the globe. According to the latest statistics, Facebook has more than 600 million active users.2 As a member of this network, one may create his/her personal profiles, exchange messages, notify "friends" of changes to their profile, and more. Many healthcare organizations have set up a Facebook account to provide information about the products and services within their network.
Blogs. Blogs are useful social networking tools that allow patients or clinicians to share information. Individuals who like the content of a blog can subscribe to future updates via really simple syndication (commonly known as RSS) feeds. These feeds send new blog content to the subscriber's e-mail or Web site. Comments and content can be added to blogs to advance the author's discussion.
Document management. Document management portal software allows clinicians to share documents, such as Word, PowerPoint, Visio, and so on. Document management programs also provide a host of communications services (voice, texting, mobile, data, and video) in a single unifying program. This allows all parties in the electronic meeting to give comments and make changes to a document in 1 seamless effort. Vendors such as Microsoft, Google, and IBM offer these services through their proprietary products.
Healthcare and Social Networking
A number of social media opportunities can be initiated by healthcare providers to streamline their practice.3 Social media,such as Twitter, can improve the patient experience by improving how a provider, such as a wound care clinic, communicates with its patients. This may include providing patients with status updates of any clinic time delays; scheduling reminders for appointments, laboratory tests, or diagnostic tests; and forwarding patient education materials based on a patient's etiology.
Video conferencing technologies, such as Skype, can assist physicians in providing "care at a distance" for routine follow-up. This communication tool can also be used to hold family conferences if the patient and his/her family are separated by distance. All the patient and family members need to join a video conference are an Internet connection and a Web camera.
These "real-time" social media options can enhance patient compliance, provide a forum for patient/caregiver education, allow patients to manage their disease process through communication with their healthcare team, and improve patient outcomes. For the provider, social media can bring physicians and clinicians together for education and discussions, collaboration about patients, and provide a forum for research, to name a few.
Communication is the key to success. Stay tuned. Who knows what the next social media product will be to revolutionize the healthcare marketplace!