The Good Doctor and Twitter

John Trader blogged last week, offering a survey of the health care industry and its use of social media. It was quite comprehensive in scope, but we just want to focus on one aspect of his piece: doctors and social media.

Doctors and social media

If it’s one thing we all recognize, physicians don’t have a great deal of free time during the work day. From a GP’s rigorous schedule of keeping appointments as the first line of health care; to a surgical MD maintaining consultations, surgeries, rounds, and meetings, few doctors have time to grab the lunch the pharm reps bring in (who clamor for what little meal time doctors are left with). We have no delusions that healthcare professionals have a great deal of time to respond to questions on Facebook, monitor the changes/research in their disciplines and share that, or tweet back and forth with their patient base.

And yet, that is what your patients are increasingly doing. In fact, when patients were polled about who they would trust for health care information, practicing doctors topped five groups at 60%, which included their friends and family. Trader offered some these points “on how social media is changing the patient communication paradigm:”

  • Social media is fueling the rise in patient advocacy by those who feel disenfranchised by the system
  • There is a distinct rise in demand from a very small percentage of patients to become part of the overall health care provision system
  • Consumer demand far outstrips supply that health care providers bring to the table in social media
  • recent Price Waterhouse Coopers report indicates that consumers trust social media from doctors more than they trust information from hospitals, health insurers, or drug companies – indicating that clinicians still remain a central resource for patients and still remain at the center of the communications model

If there is still a great deal of connection between MD’s and their patients, how can a small private practice or hospital offer this relationship online?

The Patient/Doctor Trust

There is already a great deal of change going on in health care, for example. Federal changes in health care with the onset of Accountable Care Organizations and increase in Managed Health Organizations bring about the shift away from fee based care to preventive care.  How your health care institution is organized is already going to shift, which means that your culture may (will?) change as well.

How you communicate with others will be part of this. As has been already noted, physicians are already strapped for time. Are MD’s really going to whip out their smartphone and catch up with questions about diabetes walking down the hall to their next appointment? Not quite. But if your patients are to trust you more with their questions, how can you increase your reach of care by adopting social media use into your practice?

The exciting thing -at least for me- is that it seems to bring back health care’s characteristic of the “house call” relationship that existed some time ago. As doctors, you know have another way of connecting with your patients on their own grounds. People are searching for answers online, researching other peoples experiences with the disease they share, and sharing both this information and their thoughts/feelings about the clinical industry.

Four in 10 consumers say they have used social media to find health-related consumer reviews (e.g. of treatments or physicians); one in three have sought information related to other patients’ experiences with their disease; one in four have “posted” about their health experience; and one in five have joined a health forum or community.

What a rich environment with which to understand better the doctor/patient relationship, and enhance trust and care!

As physicians, it is also important to know your patient, and their perspective. This piece from Tara Parker-Pope in the New York Times offers some insight into what patients find important in their health care providers.

. . . [D]octors often were judged on issues such as attentiveness and demeanor, rather than training and experience.

Your relationship with the patient takes precedent over your skills and success as a physician. We all know that this cannot be the whole picture for your provision for good health care. But it reveals the need for your patients to be in relationship with you, and the importance of your social posture to care for them. She goes on:

“A healthy doctor-patient relationship does not simply entail good bedside manners and responsible office management on the part of the doctor,” Dr. Chen writes. “It also requires that patients come to the relationship educated about their doctors, their illnesses and their treatment.”

And here the circle in our conversation about doctors and social media closes: patients increasingly are coming to you informed about you, their illness, and possible treatments. The numbers reveal that more and more people are using online resources and social media to take of themselves.

How can you, as a doctor, participate in that? What would it require for you to have the time to invest in social media? Please share your thoughts and experiences with us…