THE BLOG
10/15/2014 10:06 am ET Updated Dec 14, 2014

5 Social Media Trends Within Healthcare in 2014

Every year, social media increasingly integrates with almost every aspect of daily life. According to the Pew Research Center, 73 percent of adults online use some form of social media. So it's not surprising that social media is beginning to work its way into the healthcare arena.

A report by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics found physicians spend twice as much time consulting online resources than traditional print sources. And doctors certainly aren't alone in consulting online sources when it comes to health information. In the U.K., reports place Facebook as the fourth most popular source of health information. In the U.S., between 70 and 75 percent of people look to the internet for healthcare information.

Social media channels are huge portals for sharing information with patients. It seems unlikely the social media trend will die down anytime soon, and healthcare professionals need to become fluent in the ways in which social media can impact and improve their professions and the lives of their patients.

Here are just five of this year's social media trends impacting the healthcare field:

Crisis Readiness

There's nothing like being prepared when a crisis walks through the door, and social media is making real-time crisis readiness much easier. Thanks to the boom in social media, it's now possible to know when a crisis is occurring, as it occurs.

For instance, medical professionals in Boston were able to keep up with the Boston marathon bombings and be adequately prepared for the onrush of patients. Senior policy adviser at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Ellen Makar told U.S. News social media allowed medical professionals to prep much faster than if they had had to wait for a traditional news report.

Teaching Patients
Online tools and social media can help healthcare providers disseminate information more easily to patients. Instead of having nurses show children how to properly put on bike helmets, parents can be directed to a YouTube video with the same information. Patients concerned about a diagnosis or condition can be directed to additional information sources, so when they come in for an appointment the conversation can be more in-depth, specific, and ultimately more helpful.

Live Tweeting Procedures
It might seem strange, but live tweeting procedures can give current patients and potential patients insight into how medical procedures work from a boots-on-the-ground perspective. With nearly 80 percent of journalists regularly using social networking sites to stay on top of recent developments, use social media to aid in reporting, it's also a good tool to broaden a healthcare organization's media reach.
In November 2013, St. Vincent Charity Medical Center live tweeted a total knee replacement surgery, allowing more than 3,800 people to tune in and follow the surgery via Twitter. Live tweeting may seem gimmicky, but it works because it gives people insight into the medical process. Surgeons from Sunnybrook Hospital also live tweeted a heart surgery, giving insight into how these procedures work for patients, students and other medical professionals.

Improving Prevention
The Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society asks patients to friend and follow certain professional Facebook pages. Then the nurses at the organization keep watch over their Facebook flock, intervening when they see troubling behavior. Director of Nursing Ruthi Moore told U.S. News this policy had helped the nurses prevent at least 12 suicide attempts.

This connection between health providers and patients through social media can help providers intervene when they see something distressing. It gives patients better care overall, because it flips the model from one where a patient has to seek help, to one where help seeks out the patient.

Empowering Patients
Now, more than ever before, patients have untold information at their fingertips. This can help patients empower themselves, create support groups with other patients, and provide physicians with more information about their conditions. According to the IMS report, 42 percent of survey respondents had used social media to research a healthcare issue. This can help doctors find and study patients with rare conditions, as well as give patients a platform to make their voices heard.

Social media will continue to become a greater part of the healthcare community. While precautions need to be taken to ensure social channels don't step on patient rights, these networks can also help tie doctor and patient more closely together, improve emergency response, and disseminate important information.