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Social Networking On The Front Line Of New Modern Medicine

06/28/2011 10:38 am ET | Updated Aug 28, 2011

Comprehensive Guide for Medical Professionals and Patients Engaging in Social Media

Social networking offers value. It allows doctors, nurses and other health care professionals to collaborate, connect and engage with the community and their colleagues. I recently talked with Dr. Marc Siegel about Medical Social Networking on FOX NEWS Live. I wish we had more time; the edited segment was 6 minutes and 17 seconds.

In this post, I give examples of medical professionals and hospitals engaging in social media, useful health sites and online communities for patients and more. Below, I answer the questions:

  • How are medical professionals using social media to improve patient care?
  • Are hospitals embracing social media?
  • Why are patients so receptive to social media?
  • Why do patients engage in health communities and what kinds of communities are out there for patients looking for support?
  • What is the best advice for patients to get the most out of their health care?

Social Media is a powerful and phenomenal platform to educate patients. Social Media can help raise awareness of health issues and it offers a forum to collaborate and connect. Social Media gives a voice to patients and it allows for the conversation to get started with their doctors and other health care professionals.

Health information is communicated in real-time and in a transparent style. Health Care is about the patient, the most important member of the health care team. Patients want accurate, trustworthy and transparent health information. Social media allows doctors and other health professionals to engage and share information. Social Media is all about connection, collaboration, community, respect and patient engagement and empowerment.

"Twitter offers an opportunity for doctors to provide instant feedback, faster than they can even from blogging. This can range from providing updates on surgery, which Detroit's Henry Ford Hospital has done, to giving opinions on the latest, breaking studies. Twitter can provide more transparency to what goes on in the physician's world, and allow both patients and other doctors to interact with one another in a quick, convenient way." -Kevin Pho, MD

Q&A on Social Media: Medical Social Networking

How are medical professionals using social media to improve patient care?

Some medical professionals are using social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, and Blogs to connect with patients to share trusted and accurate health information and to empower patients to be proactive in their health. Others use it to simply collaborate with colleagues by exchanging journal articles and some medical professionals use it to "brand" their practice or highlight their latest book.

There are outstanding doctors, nurses and other health professionals using social media.
To find out which doctors, nurses and other health professionals are using twitter you can find a comprehensive list of dynamic health professionals at Mashable and OrganizedWisdom. From dermatologists to endocrinologists to nurses, life coaches to health IT experts to health communicators and patient advocates; OrganizedWisdom lists these great groups of professionals plus many others.

Doctors, Nurses and Other Health Professionals (Only a few of the many outstanding medical professionals-in no particular order)-

Medical Professional/ Twitter Handle
Dr. Kevin Pho @KevinMD
Dr. Val Jones @DrVal
Dr. Howard Luks @hjluks
Dr. Bryan Vartabedian @Doctor_V
Dr. Alan Greene @AlanGreene
Dr. Jen Dyer @EndoGoddess
Dr. Bill Crounse @MicrosoftMD
Dr. Joseph Kim @DrJosephKim
Dr. Kent Bottles @KentBottles
Dr. Cesa @DrCesa
Dr. Deanna Attai @DrAttai
Dr. Mehmet Oz @DrOz
Dr. Heather @BabyShrink
Dr. Elif Oker @DrElifOker
Dr. Melanie Greenberg @DrMelanieG
Dr. Andy Baldwin @DrAndyBaldwin
Dr. Cynthia Bailey @CBaileyMD
Dr. Carol Torgan @ctorgan
Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson@SeattleMamaDoc
Dr. John La Puma @JohnLapuma
Dr. Krein @KreinMD
Dr. Chris Roseberry @DrCRoseberry
Dr. Alex Fair @FaircareMD
Dr. Mike Moore @michaelbmoore
PhilBaumann, RN @PhilBaumann
Ellen Richter, RN @EllenRichter
Matthew Browning, RN @MatthewBrowning
Paula Robinson, RN @PaulaRobinsonRN
Vernon Dutton, RN @NursingPins
Amy Drouin, RN @amyrnbsn
Shelly Webb, RN @ShelleyWebbRN
Donna Cardillo, RN @DonnaCardilloRN
Barbara Ficarra, RN @BarbaraFicarra

Health Journalists and Others/Twitter Handle

Gary Schwitzer @GarySchwitzer
Bob West @westr
Ed Bennett @EdBennett
Miriam E. Tucker @MiriamETucker
Mary Knudson @MaryKnudson
Matthew Holt @boltyboy
John Novack @J2Novack
Lee Aase @Leeaase

Additionally, Sean Gardner (@2morrowknight), Joyce Cherrier (@JoyceCherrier) and Sung Lee (@Sung_H_Lee) are great folks who tweet and retweet about health.

Are hospitals embracing social media?

Doctors, nurses and other health professionals aren't the only ones using social media, some hospitals are embracing this powerful platform.

Hospitals

PR firm Burson-Marsteller studied the 100 largest companies in the Fortune 500 list and found that 79% of them use Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or corporate blogs to communicate with customers and other stakeholders...Twitter is the most popular platform that the companies use; two-thirds of the Fortune 100 have at least one Twitter account. -- Mashable

Big companies have a message to share and health care professionals can tap into what these fortune 500 companies are doing and learn from them. Medical professionals have a message to share as well -- whether it's sharing a blog post, communicating late breaking health news or simply sharing health information that can help improve lives or raise awareness; social media taps into the lightning fast world of real-time information.

If you're wondering what hospitals are engaging in social media, Ed Bennett, web manager at the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) complied a comprehensive list, the Hospital Social Network List.

Hospitals that use Social Networking tools - updated June 8, 2011

1,188 Hospitals total

* 548 YouTube Channels
* 1018 Facebook pages
* 788 Twitter Accounts
* 458 LinkedIn Accounts
* 913 Four Square
* 137 Blogs

3,952 Hospital Social Networking Sites

It's easy to find hospitals by state that use Twitter, Facebook, You Tube, Blogs, Linkedin, and Foursquare.

For example, since I'm located in New York, I'm curious about which hospitals engage in social networking. According to Bennett's list, there are 95 hospitals that are on the cutting-edge using social media to engage their patients. 45 of those are on You Tube, 85 are on FaceBook, 52 are on Twitter, 66 are on Linkedin, 79 use Foursquare, and 5 of these hospitals have blogs. When you click "New York" you will come across the comprehensive list of hospitals engaging in social media. I am surprised that there are not more hospitals with blogs. [1/11]

[Presently, there are 103 hospitals using social media in New York. 45 are on You Tube, 92 on FaceBook, 68 on Linkedin, 4 use Foursquare, and 6 have blogs.] [6/11]

The main reason that hospitals are engaging in social networking is because "they are doing it for the same reason most organizations get involved in social media; a desire to stay connected with their audiences," says Ed Bennett in an email response. He added, "For hospitals that includes patients, physicians, researchers, and other health care professionals. They are using it to exchange information, promote best practices and be responsive to any issues that may arise."

Since social media is such a powerful platform for hospitals to share information, why are hospitals not engaging in social media? "The primary reason is resources," said Bennett. "Most of the hospitals doing social media are larger facilities. They have the resources and communications staff to do a good job with social media."

After reviewing the list of hospitals that engage in social media, I was surprised to find that many hospitals are not using blogs; "staff and resources are the main factor" said Bennett. "It takes time to write and manage a blog." Bennett encourages hospitals to begin with the popular social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter since they are easier to start using. "But even a small presence is important. The public is seeking reliable health information, and hospitals are in a unique position to provide accurate guidance."

Why are patients so receptive to social media?

Patients are receptive to Social Media because today's patients are smart and technology savvy.
Today's modern patients are empowered and they are known as the "e-patient"-- Dave deBronkart, (e-patient Dave) diagnosed with advanced kidney cancer quickly became engaged in the internet searching desperately for health information and support. He became an empowered and engaged patient surrounding himself with invaluable information and support.

Patients are using the internet to gather health information. In fact, in a Pew Internet Study, 60% of e-patients, access social media related to health.

Patients want a relationship with their doctors and health care providers. They don't want to be told what to do; instead they want to work together with their providers to develop a plan that meets their needs.

I asked Dave about his experience as an e-patient. "I joined the online health communities and found affirmation that I was indeed at the right hospital, and I obtained firsthand experiences from other patients learning what they went through." Enthusiastically and adamantly he said, "People search for information about everything else, why wouldn't they search for health information to try to help themselves in a crisis."

E-Patients and Patient Advocates/Twitter Handle
Dave de Bronkart @ePatientDave
Kerri marrone @sixuntilme
Donna R. Cryer @DCPatient
Jackie Fox @JackieFox12
Trisha Torrey @TrishaTorrey
Gilles Frydman @gfry
Regina Holliday @ReginaHolliday


Why do patients engage in health communities and what kinds of communities are out there for patients looking for support?

The reasons health consumers engage in health communities are simple.

They are looking for emotional and informational support. By engaging in online health communities many people find the emotional support they are looking for. They find reassurance from other people going through the same experience.

They can collaborate and share information. They gather health information from various sites to help them gain knowledge.

A couple of communities are Inspire.com and PatientsLikeMe.com.

What does being part of the community at inspire.com achieve for patients? "We surveyed our members and asked them what they most value from participating in Inspire," said Brian Loew, CEO and co-founder. "The two leading answers were almost a tie. The first is emotional support members provide one another, and the second is practical support regarding how to deal with aspects of their condition."

Let us know what health communities you engage in. Share your insightful thoughts in the comment section below.


What is the best advice for patients to get the most out of their health care?

The best advice for patients is to be proactive in their health. It's important to be an empowered patient and to always take charge of your health.

Communication is critical.

Patients need to have a good relationship with their doctors and other health care providers. They need to speak up and ask questions.

By searching online for health information, reading blogs from outstanding medical professionals, being part of patient online communities; can aid in helping patients learn the right questions to ask and to get the answers they need.

Be smart and savvy and be empowered -- do your homework -- research accurate and trusted sites -- gather health information and talk to your doctor.

Social Media gives patients a voice and helps get the conversation started.

Bottom line

It's important for doctors, nurses and other health professionals to understand that Google, Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites, health news and information sites and online patient community sites will not replace them. It's simply a tool that offers additional information, and it allows the conversation to get started between health provider and patient. Doctors, nurses and other health providers need to engage in social media platforms to help educate the health consumer.

They have the power to provide accurate, reliable and truthful information. They should not shun away from the internet but embrace it and join forces with the health consumer. Partnering together is a very useful since patient empowerment and patient engagement is essential in the doctor/nurse-patient relationship.

Social Media starts the conversation, but face-to-face communication with your doctors and other health care professionals remains paramount.

If you're still unsure about embracing social media, Phil Baumann offers a widespread list for the 140 health care uses for Twitter.

Your turn

We would love to hear from you. Please share your insightful thoughts in the comment section below. If you're a medical professional, are you embracing social media?

Health Consumers and patients, how do you engage in social networking? Is it helpful?
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[Side note: The names mentioned above are only a few of the many wonder medical and health professionals engaged in social media.]