Today, more and more members of the medical profession are embracing social media for sharing helpful medical information and providing patient care. A Pricewaterhouse Cooper conducted survey asked over a thousand patients and over a hundred healthcare executives what they thought of the way many healthcare companies are utilizing social media and the Web, and results show the most trusted resources online are those posted by doctors (60 percent), followed by nurses (56 percent), and hospitals (55 percent).
Social media is becoming more and more utilized by hospitals and medical professionals as a means to convey general health information, sometimes even personalized help. Amanda Mauck, Interactive Marketing Specialist for Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital, thinks engaging with patients via social media is a great way to empathize with those who need comfort, not just provide relevant health news. Aside from the latest news about the hospital, Le Bonheur’s Facebook page mostly contains relatable family stories and parenting advice. “Our users love photos and [success] stories, [especially those] that showcase our team’s compassion and ability to go above and beyond for a family,” says Mauck. The hospital does receive private messages inquiring about specific medical conditions, but they never address them publicly on their Facebook page, usually recommending patients to direct their questions to the hospital’s general contact form or contact them by phone. “When a family posts a comment about a medical issue, we like to encourage the family to email our general account. We do this for a couple of reasons: One, to protect that patient’s privacy, and two, it is easier to put the family in touch with the right person on our team for help,” Mauck explains.
Kevin Pho, M.D., an internal medicine physician and founder of KevinMD.com, however, notes the potential for misinformation on the Internet is high. “The problem is, you can’t trust everything you read online,” Pho says. “For instance, consider that fewer than half of websites offered accurate facts on sleep safety for infants, or that pro-anorexia websites were shared more frequently on YouTube.” According to Pho, health professionals need a strong social media presence to establish themselves as reputable sources as well as to properly point patients toward legitimate sites to be used as secondary sources.
While Pho uses Facebook more for personal reasons, he uses Twitter professionally on a daily basis to retweet provocative healthcare opinions and news stories, as well as curate information that’s relevant to his profession. “Health reform tends to drive many of the health opinions on the web. To truly fix healthcare, I believe that we need solutions from both ends of the political spectrum, so I avoid sharing opinion pieces that are overly partisan or dogmatic,” Pho says. His “essential list” includes a variety of healthcare stakeholders, including physicians, social media experts, and policy analysts.
The likes of Facebook and Twitter not only give medical professionals a platform to connect with patients, but with fellow doctors as well. Doximity is like Facebook for physicians, where general M.D.s can easily consult specialists for cases they need assistance with.
“I encourage patients to go online and inform themselves about their medical conditions. Patients deserve to be well-informed, and the transparency of the Internet allows them access to information that used to be gated by a provider,” according to Pho. “The problem, as previously mentioned, is the quality of the information on the Web. There’s too much information available. Physicians need to act as curators of that information, and help patients sort out what’s helpful and what’s not.”
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