Harriet Messenger – How has social media transformed our lives? And how do you see it transforming health care?
Daniel Ghinn – Social media is transforming our lives in so many ways. I think all the benefits we’re getting through social media are now happening in health care. For example, social media is great for connecting people who share experiences, this is greatly beneficial in health care – whether it’s bringing patients together or building strong communications between health care providers.
It enables us to learn from one another, to get support and to share ideas in ways that would never have been possible in the non-digital communities that we lived in before the explosion of digital.
HM – Who is using social media? Is it patients, health professionals, pharmaceutical companies?
DG – To some extent it is probably a reasonable generalisation to say everybody, but in so many different ways. Patients, I believe, led the digital health revolution. Patients coming together, collaborating, sharing experiences and learning from each other on how to connect with other diverse areas.
If you think about health professionals, they’ve actually used digital channels for as long as anybody else. The UK Doctors Network originally launched in 1998 as an email service for doctors in the UK. In that same year my company helped doctors set up websites so they could get information out of patients more effectively.
But more recently, when you think about social media, doctors have really moved into the mainstream. They are blogging, using Twitter and Google Plus to share thoughts and ideas with their peers all over the world; and that’s huge. I speak to doctors and they tell me to just what extent they are learning from international peers through social media. This is really changing their professional learning coverage.
HM – Is this information being analysed to see how it is being used? What topics are being spoken about?
DG – Many doctors use public social media channels, which provide a wealth of information for the pharmaceutical and health care industry to learn about doctors’ experiences and doctors’ responses to new products. This is a valuable opportunity for the health care industry to discover new things about their stakeholders and keep abreast of what is happening around them.
HM – What would you say are the challenges and pitfalls?
DG – The whole area of doctors, healthcare professionals and patients using social media globally has changed so many of the fixed parameters and fixed models for communication, particularly within health care regulation. For example, governments regulate what health care companies can communicate. However, doctors and patients can easily go and collaborate with peers internationally, breaking down these national boundaries. This can lead to them discovering ideas that health care companies are not allowed to discuss with them. This in itself creates a huge opportunity for health care providers and patients, but it is really complicated environment for companies and governments to regulate. I believe innovation that brings about positive change always has the potential to be disruptive.
I think, because of regulation and the sensitivity of health care engagement, the industry has to move carefully; but that is a good thing too. I can give you an example. We talked about doctors using social media, a pharmaceutical company today that’s launching a new product into certain markets can now, like never before, analyse what health care professionals say about that product or the disease area in general. This is a huge, significant advance in what is possible – to actually see a doctor’s response to a new drug, through their conversations taking place between them and their peers.
In recent studies in pharmaceutical companies we pinpointed concerns from doctors about efficacy of a new product, concerns about how they are going to help to cope with side effects, and concerns about supply chain of a particular product. Discovering this first-hand is vital for pharmaceutical companies to make sure that right information is getting to the right people, the right health care professionals and the right customers.
The result of this has got to be good for health care, I really believe that, helping pharmaceutical companies to understand things better and to respond better to their customers leads to better informed health professionals.
HM – Is there a risk of patients suffering from information overload? Can we expect all patients to be able to digest, understand and use correctly the information available to them?
DG – I think as with all aspects of social media it is interesting how digital and social media have brought about new concept of trust, friendships and peer networks. I believe that most of us trust people online, even though we have never met them before.
Wikipedia is trusted as an authority because it is open. It allows people to go in and add or edit it. There are also trusted sources online like patient networks in diabetes. When you know you are at a place you trust, you will likely to use it.
The collective knowledge sharing ultimately leads to positive information.
HM – And what would you say what is the next big changing forecast in health care in the next 10 years?
DG – Well, when I think about information and innovation, I look at the current opportunity and challenges in health care delivery. I really believe better communication – better engagement and better sharing of information – can solve a huge part of these challenges. In my view the single thing that will contribute to this is will be advances in digital health records. So that providers will see all the same information about patients as they pass through the health care system. This will enable much more continuity in their treatment.
I think this is going to be a breakthrough. For the patient to truly own their own health record and be able to give access to whomever they want. Look as services like MediAngel, which was the first online hospital in India and anyone can go online and get a second opinion from a health care professional. Patients owning their own health record will truly facilitate a global expansion of online health care prevision.
The barriers for this kind of thing happening are not technological, but cultural. It is all about people, it’s about fear of litigation and fear of different cultural issues. It is going take a long time to reach this place, but that is definitely got to be the biggest breakthrough.
HM – Health 2.0 Europe is an important showcase of cutting-edge innovation, which is really transforming health care. What are you hoping to get out of the 3-day event in November?
DG – I am really looking forward to it. I am excited that it is in London, my hometown, and because when I look at the previous Health 2.0 events and I remember seeing new ideas launching and new concepts discussed, it provided glimpses to where things might be heading in the future.
Harriet Messenger is a journalist at ZPB Associates.