Health Care Should Embrace Social Media
This week sees the debut of 'The Social Network', a film written by West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin about the early days of Facebook. Social networks have gone from cutting edge to mainstream in a big hurry. Facebook has more than half a billion subscribers and is the most visited Internet site in North America. Add in the number of people tweeting, myspacing, linking-in and what have you, and it's a lot closer to 1 billion.
More than 1 in 7 people on planet Earth belong to a social network.
On my twitter account - WCBADoctorBrian - I've written more than 2100 tweets. I have more than 850 followers with more arriving each day. I estimate that I get a minimum of 20-30% of my story ideas for WCBA through social networking.
To me, it seems natural to use social media to connect with patients. My medical colleagues aren't nearly so certain. Dr. Paul Freedman, a veteran family doctor in Toronto, doesn't friend his patients. He doesn't even have a Facebook account.
On this week's show, you'll hear why Freedman doesn't think people on my side of the gurney should connect with patients via social networks. He's not alone. Even though most medical students (more than 90% in informal anecdotal surveys) have fb accounts, they wouldn't dream of sharing them with people across the doctor-patient divide.
Not yet. But it's coming.
For every hundred or so reluctant MDs, comes one who dips their toe into the water and decides to jump in. Pay special attention this week to my interview with Dr. Jennifer Dyer, a pediatric endocrinologist in Columbus, Ohio. She's not afraid to friend patients on fb. She's using the social media site to keep tabs on four of her hard-to-treat diabetics. She chose fb because she's plugged in enough to know that teens use fb and texting to communicate - not emails.
And you can't argue with success. Dyer has found that with fb and texting, her patients are staying in more contact with her. And their diabetes is under far better control.
Is privacy an issue? You bet. This week, we also talk about a nurse who was fired from a hospital in Detroit for facebooking that she had come face to face with an alleged cop killer and that she told him she hoped he'd rot in hell.
But to me, privacy is not just an issue; it's a dodge. It's the perfect conversation stopper to a healty discussion about the value of social networking in health care. But the benefits FAR outweigh the risk. With social networking, that gem of a piece of advice that the family doctor gives one patient can be enjoyed and used by hundreds if not thousands.
In time, we will all see that the benefits are too good to pass up. And if anyone thinks that regulators will simply put a stop to the use of social networking in health care, they're dreaming.