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Posted on 12.16.2011

When Physicians and Patients “Meet Up” Through Social Media

I recently had the good fortune to speak with a sharp group of lawyers at the Attorney’s Workshop of the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB).  The FSMB, as the name suggests, is comprised of the state agencies that oversee the licensure and regulation of physicians throughout in the United States. Our discussion centered on social media and the implications of social networking in healthcare.  We examined some of the staggering statistics about the prevalence of social media before zeroing in on current social media trends among both healthcare consumers and providers. Countless reports have been issued on how consumers use the Internet and social media in relation to health and medical interests.  And several additional efforts have examined the proliferating use of social media by physicians. Research released just earlier this fall by QuantiaMD goes a step further by examining the intersection where these two distinct but symbiotic groups meet: in online patient communities.

health care social media marketing

Online patient communities are social networking sites that help connect people with similar medical conditions or interests to share information and find moral support.  These sites have been around almost as long as the Internet: the founders of MedHelp – an online patient community that boasts 12 million monthly visitors – met in a Compuserv group in 1993 and started their company the following year.  Several other online patient communities have sprouted up since that time.  Just as patient networking sites have proliferated, so have physician online communities such as Sermo and Ozmosis. Quantia reports that 28% of physicians participating in their research utilize physician networking sites for professional use, 18% for personal use. Even more interesting, however, is how physicians responded when asked, “Would you recommend that a patient participate in an online patient community?” Thirty-eight percent of physician respondents indicated they already have done so, and an additional 40% indicated they “haven’t yet, but would consider.” Though most physicians bemoan the impact of cyberchondria, this telling statistics indicates physicians clearly understand the impact the Internet has on how patients manage their health. So it’s not surprising that when asked if they were interested in interacting with patients in a secure environment, physicians responded favorably:
  • 78% were interested in prescribing patient education resources;
  • 72% would monitor patient health and/or behavior;
  • 70% would monitor patient drug adherence remotely;
  • 68% would give care advice to many patients simultaneously;
  • 65% would grow and/or maintain their practice;
  • 65% would give patient discount vouchers; and, amazingly,
  • 58% indicated they would be interested in diagnosing and/or treating patients.
With these kinds of indicators, it would appear the further intersection of patient- and physician-centric social platforms is not far off. Will this create a new host of social media marketing opportunities for physicians, hospitals, clinics and other providers?  You can bet on it. Will it usher in a new slew of social media nightmares and provider liability traps?  You can bet even more. But will it improve outcomes or help patients better manage their health?  That’s a gamble worth taking.

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