Name: 9 Ways Medicine Makes Use Of Social Media

Facebook, the popular social media portal has more than 1.3 billion users. Twitter, the microblogging website has a count of 900 million, every second, about an hour of video is uploaded to YouTube. Social networking has brought a paradigm shift in the ways we connect to our peers.

Healthcare can utilize this immensely diverse platform to reach new heights. However, the health sector has just started doing so. The prime reason for this is the numerous regulations that a health care provider has to follow. But rest assured, there are some truly great minds putting this medium to good use for the benefit of everyone involved in healthcare.

Here are 9 examples of healthcare utilizing social networks:

1.   The doors of Operating Rooms are now open to the world

With the popularity of live streaming, hospitals broadcast surgical procedures through social media. Recently, The Swedish Medical Centre in Washington State streamed a live broadcast of a cochlear implant surgery followed by a video of the patient listening to music for the first time. Memorial Hermann Hospital in Texas streamed a delivery of a 6 pound baby via cesarean section live from the Operating Room on Twitter. The doctors behind the World Vasectomy Day broadcasted 25 vasectomy procedures live along with interviews and short documentaries to reduce the fear of the procedure. There are countless other examples where social media has been utilized in a similar manner.

2.   Outsourcing Tough Medical Diagnoses.

The average user of CrowdMed, a website, has been sick for about 8 years, spent more than $50,000 on medical expenses and still has no diagnosis for their illness. The website helps patients reach a network of healthcare professionals and medical students in over 20 countries.

One patient found a diagnosis and cure in just two weeks of signing up. The patient presented with a painful swelling condition that had kept her bedridden for almost 20 years. The possibilities are endless. And it is also not burdensome to physicians. An average medical professional of CrowdMed, spends about 11 hours a month solving medical cases on the network.

3.   Raising Money for Clinical Research

When a 4 year old girl was diagnosed with a rare pediatric disease, her parents turned to social media. They have now raised more than $2 million from 30,000 donors for the research of the cure for this rare disease.

Another example is the ALS Bucket Challenge that was recently all over the social media and raised $115 million in a few months, which goes to prove how potent and useful the social media platform can be for raising funds and spreading awareness.

4.   Using #FOMO for Public Health

A study found that social media conversations could perhaps triple the request rate for at-home HIV tests in high risk zones. The researchers are now going one step further by focusing on expanding the findings of the study to combat depression, bullying and substance abuse.

The reason social media has a huge potential is not because of the platform itself, but because almost everybody uses it.

5.   Using Social Media Data for Life-Saving Trends

The amount of data in social media websites is perhaps a gold mine for medical researchers. For example, a research found that angry tweets could directly predict fatal cardiac diseases. The study found that the model based on Twitter language could predict heart disease significantly better than a model combined with 10 common heart disease risk factors that included smoking, diabetes, hypertension and obesity.

Real-time map tracking for international awareness of Ebola was done through tweets. Even though the potential for social media in medical research is immense, there are emerging debates about the ethics and accuracy of using the data.

6.   Directly Contacting Candidates for Clinical Trials

It is estimated that 30% of work done in a clinical trial is on patient recruiting. Also, difficulty finding patients is the top reason for delays in clinical research. However, this is about to change. One study found that 84% of patients for two recent pediatric rare disease trials were referred to via social media. There is a patient social network – PatientsLikeMe. This social network has a tool that automatically matches members to over 40,000 clinical trial opportunities. Such methods of patient recruiting are not only quick but quite cost effective.

7.   Getting the Doctors to Social Media

When the social media was in its initial phase, the strict privacy restrictions made it difficult for medical professionals. But this is rapidly changing. Professional networks like Sermo and Figure 1 have created a physician-only social space. Such networks are quickly gaining popularity.

8.   Donating Organs

Facebook included a single organ donation question to their timeline, over 50,000 people said that they were willing to be donors. Over 10,000 people officially registered in their state registry in just one day. This is more than 21 times the normal registration rate.

9.   Disease Awareness

In Netherlands, health advocates photoshopped people into pictures of events that they had never attended. Then they tagged them on Facebook. A follow-up message said, “Confused? You are now experiencing what it is like to have Alzheimer’s disease.”

The above mentioned examples are all quite recent, which points to the fact that this combination of social media and medicine is still in its early phase. Despite concerns about privacy and other such factors, fresh new ways are being found to make the most of social networks.

The Secret to Patient Engagement – More engaging physicians

If you ask people involved in Patient Engagement about how hands-on they are in their own health, the most common reply you will get would be something along the lines of,  “I try to take care of myself by doing X or Y or Z.”

About 82% of US adults have a regular doctor whom they visit at least once a year with the average number of visits being 3 per year, which, in fact, is double the number of visits made by people with chronic conditions.

Obviously, one would think that this level of patient engagement would be immensely beneficial to physicians, administrators, health IT vendors and others involved. But that wouldn’t be correct. Let us see why.

Physicians, administrators, health IT vendors, etc. each, have their own definition of what patient engagement is. Let us see their definitions and how they measure patient engagement.

1.   Physicians/Provider definition of patient engagement:

Maintaining appointments, even though it might be about 6-7 appointments annually, along with abundant self-care, would not count as patient engagement from the physicians’ perspective. Most patients do not do as they are told by their physicians – they are often non-compliant.

As numerous physicians equate patient engagement with patient compliance, the high non-compliance rates (30%-70%) that are seen these days suggest that a large number of patients are far from engaged. What the clinicians fail to realize is that up to 20% of non-compliance is a direct result of poor physician-patient communication and not lack of engagement.

2.   Health IT Professionals and Vendors:

Health IT professionals neither consider “showing up” nor the level of compliance of the patient when it comes to defining or measuring patient engagement. The HIMSS (NeHC) Patient Engagement Framework would have you believe that the true patient engagement is all about the use of health information technology and the achievement of Stage 2 Meaningful Use, which means, as long as the patients use the right health IT tools, they are considered engaged.

What Health IT industry often overlooks is the fact that 85% of patient prefer to meet their doctor face-to-face when they feel the need. They are reluctant to let technology get in between them and their doctor.

The challenge however, the physicians and health IT professionals face, is not how to engage more patients, but actually, it’s about how to be more engaging to the majority of the patients who have already been engaged.

The reality is that health care is about everyone but the patient. Most physicians still relate to their patients using a peculiar communication style where they act as the clinicians knows best, does the most talking and makes almost all decisions for the patient. Patients are encouraged to be passive and compliant rather than being engaged.

Health IT treats patients as unwise and unneeded when it comes to engagement. They ignore the fact that 85% of adults want to be able to interact with their physician face-to-face whenever they want, regardless of their showing willingness to use secure email, patient portals or any other such technology. People are not unwise. They realize that Health IT wants to put technology between themselves and their doctor. A number of patients have stated that laptops and computers in the exam room interfere with the doctor-patient relationship. This is clearly not serving patient engagement.

The only certain technique to improve patient engagement is to be more engaging to the patient. Which means being more patient-centered. The patient-centered attitude should reflect in the things being done for the patient, the way physicians talk and listen to them, the way products and services are designed, and how patient engagement is assessed.

This includes obtaining the patient’s story, paying attention to their health beliefs, fears and concerns, comprehending their health information needs and interests, understanding their previous health experiences, and so on.

The patient has the major stake in their own health. This should never be forgotten. Besides, it’s not like they don’t have brains.