There’s no doubt about the fact that patients are becoming more vocal in the social media space. There are amazing digital conversations going on about widespread diseases like Diabetes and Multiple Sclerosis, as well as very niche diseases like Huntington’s Disease and Spontaneous Coronary Heart Dissection.
What do all these conversations have in common? They generally start with patients sharing experiences and information with each other, so they can learn more about their disease, treatment opportunities and how to best balance managing the disease with living their life. Often absent from the online conversation, however, is the voice of the health care professional.
Doctors that I have discussed social media with have a broad range of opinions about whether they should engage with their patients online. Gen-Y docs have generally grown up with a digital device in their hand, so they often feel that patient communications should naturally extend into the digital space. Boomers are often the polar opposite worrying about the time required, technical concerns, and potential privacy issues that may arise. Gen-X doctors seem to bridge that digital-divide, trying to figure out the right balance.
Regardless of generation, most health care professionals express concerns about not allowing social media usage to diminish the time they have to be available for in-person patient conversations.
The big question HCPs are facing is how to get involved in the online conversation while still doing everything they need to do to help patients in the exam room. While patients have the time and energy to share treatment recommendations and experiences freely, guidance from a doctor or nurse is usually nowhere to be found…and patients are noticing. Which raises the question as to why docs aren’t tweeting and posting.
Is it lack of time? Do they not understand how the various social media channels work? Is it fear of privacy violations? Are they concerned about the liability if they should disclose private information?
To better understand how others felt about the topic, I posed a question on Twitter:
— Sean R. Nicholson (@SocMedSean) August 12, 2013
the response was a great conversation with several folks who are passionate about the topic.
@DebHoury responded advocating for HCPs getting involved and sharing their expertise with patient communities:
— Debra Houry (@debhoury) August 13, 2013
When I brought up the issue of potential disclosure of sensitive data and/or insurance liability, Debra also pointed out that there are still a lot of topics that doctors and nurses could discuss in the digital space:
— Debra Houry (@debhoury) August 14, 2013
@Kristy3M pointed out that it might be an issue with communication training, as well:
— kristy3m (@kristy3m) August 20, 2013
As the conversation progressed, I asked whether Practice Managers might be better resources to share information in the social space. The responses were mixed, questioning whether Practice Managers would be the right resources to share the information that patients want:
— Debra Houry (@debhoury) August 23, 2013
However, @Kristy3M made an insightful recommendation that maybe Practice Managers evolve their role to develop and publish digital content that is reviewed and approved by the doctors and/or nurses.
— kristy3m (@kristy3m) August 24, 2013
While I’m sure Practice Managers wouldn’t be thrilled at adding yet another duty to their long list of daily activities, it might actually be one of the best solutions to the challenge. Engage Practice Managers, help them understand the digital space and develop content that would be valuable to the patients that they serve. The content would leverage insights and experience from both the nurses and doctors in their practice.
While I’m certainly not here to make excuses for HCPs and let them off the hook for evolving to digitally-savvy, I do understand that the current state of the health care profession requires them to spend less time with patients and more time on paperwork, leaving little time for tweeting and posting. Additionally, with the legal liability of disclosing patient information social media is probably a daunting challenge to most health care professionals.
Not all health care professionals are technophobic, though. There are some great examples of social networks popping up specifically targeting medical professionals. Networks, like Sermo, Doximity and the OPENPediatrics networks. Check out this great video featuring ways that doctors can (and should) leverage social media to share research and experiences.
Would you prefer that your doctor engaged in social media? Share your thoughts in a comment or add your opinion to my original tweet (click the link in my tweet above). I’d love to hear some additional opinions, thoughts and experiences.