Welcome to another post for the ‘National Health Blog Post Month’…. and today’s topic is whether healthcare professionals, such as Doctors should embrace social media.
As most of you are aware, I live in the United Kingdom and social media is not really used by healthcare professionals as of yet. I believe they should – many brands and companies have already embraced the role of social media to engage consumers and to make them aware of products and special offers. So why not healthcare professionals?
Many healthcare companies and charities associated with various conditions and disabilities have already started using social media to get the word out – to educate and inform existing followers whilst also attracting new followers/patients. Social media can allow these healthcare companies and non-profits to connect and collaborate more effectively with each other and their communities. It is a tool for change and awareness.
Already, some healthcare companies have started using technology – for example, certain pharmacies in the UK have started using text messaging services to let their patients know when their prescriptions are ready for collection – very useful for patients who may due to their condition, or side effects from medications may forget necessary details such as this.
I am aware, that a small number of healthcare professionals in the USA and other parts of the world have started using technology and social media to communicate with their patients, such as using email to converse with patients regarding health matters, using social networks such as Twitter to track disease trends. However, these instances are not common amongst most doctors – many still prefer the old pen and paper approach to keep track of patients medical records, and when technology are used it is only to communicate with other doctors, or to update medical records, and not used to communicate with their patients.
However, I believe that social media will be an effective tool for doctors and other healthcare professionals as well as their patients. Most appointments, whether it be at the local G.P’s office or at hospital appointments, are approximately 15 minutes long (some appointments can be even shorter than this!). For most patients, this is not enough time to effectively discuss issues and problems associated with their particular health concern, particularly with the more unusual and complicated conditions. In these circumstances, patients are often too aware of these short appointments, pressurised to be as quick as possible, that important details and questions may be forgotten about. Be honest, how many times have you gone home from appointments only to remember and wished that you asked that certain question or thought “I really should have mentioned about that…” And added to this, the long-waiting times to be able to get another appointment with the doctor – therefore, social media would be a great tool for both healthcare and professionals and their patients to converse between appointments and to get more immediate feedback when problems do arise, and before they become a real problem for the patient.
And what about those patients who may need to speak to a doctor but who may not have the ability to physically access their local doctor’s office? Skype, could be the answer to the problem. Recently, I read an article about this very issue – utilising Skype as a means to cut the large cost that missed appointments cost the NHS every year – you can read this article here. As the article suggests, Skype may be a great tool when there is no reason that the patient will need a physical assessment; to be used when information and advice need to be given.
I know for me, there are often instances where I am confused or bewildered by medical stories entering the mainstream news – often stories may contradict earlier advice that has been given. This is where Twitter can be useful – doctors will be able to tweet those articles and news stories which have more scientific merit than others, as well as providing useful context and meaning to these items. Furthermore, the internet, although can be incredibly useful for finding information and support, the information however is not always inaccurate, so for doctors and leading healthcare professionals to remain the leading authority on medical matters, it would be useful if doctors used social media as a means to dispel myths and provide accurate health information to those who may use search engines to research reasons behind symptoms or looking for more information on health conditions.
And perhaps most importantly, social media can also provide the opportunity for doctors to listen to patients concerns and frustrations regarding healthcare and policies surrounding healthcare. By listening to patient feedback, doctors can adequately adjust the way in which they practice medicine.
However, although social media would certainly improve the quality of our proceedings with healthcare professionals, it should also be wise to mention the disadvantages and pitfalls for using such technology. The problems include:
- Issues surrounding patient confidentiality – nothing is forgotten on the web, meaning that medical information on patients’ could be found with a few clicks on a search engine
- If technology such as email or social media sites are used to converse between doctor and patient; then important medical information may be forgotten to be documented in the patients’ medical notes
- Worries about potential legal lawsuits being pursued if wrong information is provided, etc
- The possible blurring of boundaries between patients and doctors when using social media; would you want to ‘befriend’ you doctor on social media – them knowing what you get up to as well as embarrassing stories, etc?
These problems are certainly well-founded and may harm the doctor’s professional reputation as well as having the potential to harm patients. I suppose we will have to weigh up the pros and cons of using such technology and any solutions that can be utilised to minimise these risks….
So, what are your thoughts on healthcare professionals using social media as a way of communicating with patients? Are you for or against? And why or why not? As always would love to hear your views on the topic.