Commentary

Keeping Up With the … Clinicians?


 

References

This past week, I received “appointment reminder” text messages from two separate health care clinics requesting confirmation of my attendance—a practice that has become so commonplace, I didn’t think twice about it. But there was a time, not long ago, when this would’ve seemed like a scenario from the far-off future (like the flying cars on The Jetsons).

Times, they are a-changin’! Clinicians are becoming more electronically skilled and interested in connecting with patients in a more convenient, direct way. Accordingly, they are increasingly willing to embrace the world of social media—something health care institutions evaded for years and even discouraged employees from entering. Today, clinicians are starting to harness the potential of social media to increase health care awareness and improve access to care.

The popularity of social media has grown tremendously in recent years; 72% of US adults now use social media, up from 8% in 2005.1 Facebook—one of the most commonly used social networks, along with LinkedIn and Twitter—surpassed 1 billion users in the third quarter of 2012, making it the first to achieve this milestone.2,3 (By the second quarter of 2017, it had 2 billion monthly active users.3) In this 280-character world, members of Congress—and even the President himself—are tweeting on a daily (if not hourly) basis, reaching millions of people.

And that’s the beauty of social media: It’s a tool that’s all about speeding up and augmenting communication. Active users consider themselves part of a community and therefore tend to trust others within their social media “group.” As a result, patients—especially younger ones—are using social media to make health care decisions. They research and select their clinicians, hospitals, and even courses of treatment (for both themselves and their families) with input from this community.

Our patients are social media–savvy and expect us, as clinicians, to be equally skilled. Are we missing an opportunity by opting out of these networks? Or are we rightly avoiding a number of thorny legal and regulatory issues by staying “offline”?

Many clinicians believe that the dependability of social media can drive better quality of care. In fact, 60% of physicians are in favor of interacting with patients on social media for patient education, health monitoring, medication adherence, and promotion of behavioral change.4 And in a 2012 study, 56% of patients reported wanting clinicians to use “social media” (which included email) to set appointments, report diagnostic test results, send prescription notifications, provide health information, and answer questions.5

Social media provides a platform for the public, patients, and health care professionals to communicate about health issues and (possibly) improve health outcomes. It can be used for professional networking, education, organizational promotion, patient care, patient education, and public health programs.6 So, where’s the downside?

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