Health care social media is in its infancy says panel

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Cheri Keith posted a recap from Harnessing the Power of Social Media in Healthcare Communications on the Health Care 3.0 blog and solicited "takeaways" from others.  Mine follow below.

About the panel:

The Racepoint Group hosted the session. Larry Weber (who just published Everywhere: Comprehensive Digital Business Strategy for the Social Media Era ) served as moderator.  The panelists included Dr. Kevin Pho, MD, Barry P. Chaiken, MD, MPH and Ashley Serotta of Sermo.

Most physicians are not active on social media during the work day

Most physicians are not active on social media.  Until recently, they didn't have easy access to information technology during the workday because they don't work at desks.

Now, thanks to shared workstations and portable platforms such as smart phones and tablets, they are beginning to incorporate information technology into their workflow.  Nevertheless, their now paperless workflow mimics the paper world.

Reimbursement, or lack thereof, has been a major factor limiting online communications with patients. That said, physicians do use social media in their personal lives.  I believe the panelists said that 58% of surgeons are on Facebook and 25% are on Twitter.

New financial incentives will drive greater clinical use of social media

Physicians are likely to become more active in social media.  Already, there are pilot projects where physicians receive reimbursement for electronic visits.

Moreover, once physicians receive reimbursement based on care quality, rather than care volume, there will be less incentive to bring patients into the office.  Dr. Chaiken noted, to my surprise, that already 60% of physicians are employees (who receive a fixed salary, regardless of volume).  Both these trends will likely drive greater use of social media for patient interactions.

Some practices have begun to use social media

In response to my question about practices that are currently using social media for patient interaction, Dr. Pho noted that the MacArthur OB/Gyn practice established a Facebook community to communicate with teens about avoiding pregnancy and STDs.  In information, I found later on the web, Dr. Livingston of the MacArthur practice noted that he reaches out via social media and then uses his practice portal to communicate with individual patients in a HIPAA-compliant way.  Dr. Livingston found that while increased communication has helped him brand and increase his practice, it's also helped establish a greater connection than he can in a 10-minute office visit and enabled him to have a greater impact on the community.

Physicians use peer networks to seek advice and learn best practices

Ms. Serotta noted that physicians in Sermo's peer network spend about 50% of their time discussing patient-centered and clinical issues.  There, they can compare notes with others in their specialty or learn about best practice from other specialties.

Too much information

The panelists also discussed information overload-and the need for filters.  Dr. Chaiken said this problem will exacerbate once medical devices directly download data to the EMR (electronic medical record).


The panel concluded that medical social media is in its infancy, but shows promise.  My impression was that they believed that the speakers see reimbursement, speed, and information overload as far greater impediments than concerns about HIPAA, especially because physicians are already well-trained to act in a HIPAA-compliant way.

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