The Doctor is Social

Doctors and hospitals are going social, adopting social media for professional and clinical use, based on surveys conducted in mid-2011 by QuantiaMD and Frost & Sullivan and the Institute for Health Technology Transformation (iHT2).

In Doctors, Patients & Social Media, dated September 2011, QuantiaMD and the Care Continuum Alliance report a high level of physician engagement with online networks and social media. Two-thirds of physicians are using social media for professional purposes, and see potential in the use of these channels to facilitate patient-physician communication. The survey found a cadre of “Connected Clinicians” who use multiple media sites to positively impact patient care. Over 20% of clinicians use 2 or more sites.

Only 1 in 10 physicians is familiar with one or more online patient communities, as the first chart illustrates. Among those who know about at least one community, a majority believe the sites have a positive impact on patients (either very positive or positive in the survey response). This is true across various condition categories, especially for rare diseases, cancers, chronic conditions, maternal and child health, and wellness/prevention. As one physician shared anecdotally, “Patients can share their stories, learn from others, spread knowledge, and instill hope.”

Some 38% of physicians have recommended that a patient participate in an online community, and only 19% would be unlikely to recommend one to a patient. 2 in 3 doctors would participate in an online community as a professional, anonymously to understand the site and what’s being discussed, and over one-half would provide advice or resources on a community.

On the peer-to-peer front, a vast majority of physicians are interested in using a secure online physician network to conduct a variety of tasks, including learning from experts (92%), discussing clinical issues (90%), discussing practice management (87%), and sharing their own expertise (84%). 8 in 10 would be interested in consulting on a specific patient via an online physician network.

When it comes to patient-physician communication online, most doctors would be interested in certain aspects of online secure communications: specifically, prescribing education resources (75%), monitoring patient health and behaviors (72%), monitoring patient drug adherence remotely (70%), and giving advice to many patients simultaneously (68%). However, over 40% of physicians would not be interested in diagnosing or treating patients online, with concerns about patient privacy and physician liability at the top of the list of barriers.

QuantiaMD studied 4,033 clinicians in August 2011.

The report, Social Media Use in U.S. Healthcare Provider Institutions: Insights from Frost & Sullivan and iHT2 Survey, dated August 30, 2011, discusses findings from a survey of hospitals, physician offices and other patient care settings conducted in April-May 2011. The survey found that 3 in 4 of them use social networking for professional purposes as shown in the second chart. One in 2 use internet forums, message boards and online communities, and 1 in 3 use blogs and chatrooms. 21% use microblogging (read: Twitter) for professional reasons. The most commonly-cited reason for using social media is marketing, brand awareness and business development — although Frost & Sullivan and iHT2 see signs in the market for health institutions to use social media outside of marketing. They point to the Veterans Administration which is encouraging employees to use social media to interact with patients and the public. Most U.S. health providers, though, are concerned about patient privacy and information security challenges when it comes to using social media beyond the marketing function.

Jane’s Hot Points: It’s connected clinicians who are the most eager to use social media in medicine, based on QuantiaMD’s data. The more digitally mature the physician becomes, the more like he/she is to be apt to communicate electronically with patients directly.

The finding that most physicians are interested in online interactions with patients for remote monitoring, information therapy, and group consultations is an encouraging finding, given consumer surveys conducted earlier this year by Intuit and Dell finding that patients are looking to connect with physicians online, as well. The fact that patients and physicians are converging toward a “yes” in online interactions for health is a necessary ingredient for connected and participatory health.

The adoption of new payment formats for health care, such as bundling, pay for performance, accountable care and medical homes could be the key ingredient that brings patients and providers together beyond the initial phase of pioneering physicians and e-patients who have come together in the world of Doctors 2.0 and Patients 2.0. How far out will Health 2.0 be for the mainstream patient and doctor? Sooner than some think, given that physicians are now embracing the concept beyond theory.

2 replies »

  1. Hello Jane,
    Thank you for the article. The ability of social networks to bring visibility and draw community members around a common-interest topic will grow in importance as healthcare resources face increasing economic pressure. The interaction of physicians with patients in social network settings engages patients in their own healthcare management plan. This is where there is real value to patient outcomes. In a recent study, we found that mHealth solutions that incorporate social networking enable patients’ families and caretakers to become active members of healthcare management plans. Social mHealth technology allows closer monitoring and management of patients receiving healthcare in the home. These social mHealth solutions can facilitate the prevention of acute scenarios by reducing the opportunity for missed medications, unnoticed changes in vital signs or patient self-neglect. As you pointed out in your article, there are many opportunities for social networking to play a key role in improving healthcare. Overall, it is encouraging to see mHealth technology changing the way healthcare is communicated and delivered – in a way that is positive for patients, caregivers and their healthcare providers. It is also encouraging to see carriers, enterprise software vendors, device manufacturers and a new crop of solution developers invest in mHealth innovation.