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How Social Media Is Shaping Doctor-Patient Relationships Today

From apps that allow patients to bypass long waiting lines at the ED to telehealth platforms that help doctors properly diagnose weird conditions: today’s technology is quickly shaping how we share and consume information. If it can shape commerce, gaming, education, even fashion – can technology also make positive waves in healthcare?

In fact, it already did.

The healthcare industry is adapting to modern advancements to make medical care quick and convenient for everyone. Hospitals are installing screens for patient education, doctors are logging into apps to remotely connect with patients, and people are searching for their symptoms online.

The belief that your doctor is the only ‘smartest person in the room’ could be over soon.

Patients as Collaborators and Motivators

The Web is now bringing information closer to people who need it – anytime, anywhere.

If you feel left out by all these changes, think again. You’re using technology in healthcare more than you think. Social media is a great example of the most common tools used by both patients and doctors. It may seem simple enough, but channels like Facebook are helpful in:

  • Continuing patient care
  • Patient education, engagement, and involvement
  • Efficient follow-ups and takes up less time

Why resist when technology is putting choices and knowledge at our fingertips? Our health is one of the most important aspects of our lives. Leaving it to hospitals or physicians alone is NOT enough. But thanks to social media, the doors for collaboration and motivation have been opened – particularly in doctor-patient relationships.

Here’s how it’s shaping this fragile partnership.

Social Media and Doctor-Patient Relationships

1. Social media for patient education.

Internationally recognized Cardiologist, Dr. Kevin Campbell MD, FACC, is one of the leading enthusiasts when it comes to using social media as tools in healthcare. Unlike other physicians, he likes to embrace the thought of a fully-connected world, particularly in the medical industry.

In his interview with Social Media and Compliance Specialist, Joanna Belbey, Dr. Campbell shares the many benefits of using social media to help patients receive the best care possible. One of them is patient education. To quote:

“It is important to discuss online information with patients during an office visit. I typically provide a list of reputable sites and invite patients to follow me on Twitter and on my professional Facebook page.”

Physicians need to acknowledge a patient’s willingness and initiative to learn more about their condition. The Web gives them this opportunity quickly and easily. Misinformation may be rampant online – but there are also a good number of credible resources.

Instead of shunning this practice, doctors need to treat it as an opportunity to further educate the patient.  Together, they can learn from one another. After all, health and wellness is a highly dynamic field. This not only benefits the patients but establishes credibility and professionalism for physicians.

2. Social media as an extension of doctor-patient relationships.

Remember the days when doctors would make house calls? Households then would have one doctor for the entire family for years. This is no longer observed today. Both patients and physicians are too busy with their own affairs. Thus, doctor-patient relationships are usually limited to clinic or hospital settings.

But it doesn’t need to be that way. I this day and age of social media, there’s hardly an excuse for doctors to ignore patients – especially if they’re online most of the time. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn provide avenues for doctor-patient interaction that spans time and distance.

Wondering if your patient is remembering to take his medicine for his chronic condition? You can send him a quick reminder on Twitter. Woke up at 2AM and anxious about which pills to take? You can send a private message to your physician wherever he or she may be. This ease of communication has allowed physicians to recognize social media as an effective tool in:

  • Helping them monitor patient adherence to medication
  • Answering general patient questions
  • Scheduling appointments, prescription notification, and diagnostic test results
  • Improving overall patient satisfaction

As the use of social media increases to different sectors and societies worldwide, it’s time to stop seeing it as a threat. Instead, let it be a bridge that connects people to experts and vice versa. Through the responsible use of these platforms, doctor-patient relationships can be strengthened for the long term.

3. Social media as tools for quick collaboration between experts.

Aside from popular sites like Facebook and Twitter, physicians also have their own social media platforms that help them collaborate with one another. A good example is SERMO. Connecting practicing physicians together, they can quickly and easily exchange ideas or find solutions for their patients.

General surgeon Dr. Richard Armstrong has firsthand experience on how helpful such platforms are today. In 2008, he had trouble with a patient who, after successful surgery of his thyroid cancer, suddenly discovered that his cancer had spread to his lungs. According to Dr. Armstrong:

“At the beginning it was straightforward….but as the cancer progressed, it became more complicated from the point of view of how to progress through the treatment”

But thanks to SERMO, he was able to consult with dozens of specialists to help him with the problem. In 24 hours, there were 40 other physicians who responded to his post. The patient was later transferred to a research program at the University of Michigan and has been cancer-free as of 2015.

One of the features that make SERMO a favorite among doctors is the option of anonymity. You can choose to reveal who you are or be completely anonymous. This system has contributed to helping more than 3,500 challenging medical cases, putting the most brilliant minds together – no matter how far they might be.

Platforms like this are slowly expanding worldwide. Once they cast a wider net, imagine all types of physicians from different countries working together to save lives. Not only will this enhance doctor-patient relationships, it could even lead to breakthroughs in medicine.

Technology in Healthcare: for a Healthier Future

Using social media to improve doctor-patient relationships is NOT without risks.

One of the biggest concerns is privacy, which is an issue shared by both medical experts and patients. Some physicians try to counter this problem by setting up a separate business account on online platforms, just as businesses and brands would do. This helps them assist clients, without blurring the lines between work and their private lives.

However, there are still a big number of doctors who don’t see social media as an effective tool in healthcare. In an article from National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), a survey of 480 practicing physicians, 68 percent believed it’s ‘ethically problematic’ for medical experts to interact with patients via social media. But with the increasing number of people looking for information online, how long will this belief hold up? Only time can tell.

The healthcare industry still has a long way to go when it comes to seamlessly incorporating technology into its programs. But allowing social media to fix gaps between doctor-patient relationships is definitely a wonderful start.

Written By

I am a senior copywriter and the Chief Editor of Scoopfed.com. I'm currently focused on writing articles to help millennials find better career opportunities as they strive to make a difference. Aside from writing, I also enjoy painting, collecting toys, and reading German novels.

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