By: Robert J. Shaughnessy, CTO, Circadence Corp.
Social media is a phenomenon many leading hospitals are already leveraging, but what business and patient care benefits can social media provide your healthcare facility?
Social media has become much more than a way for friends and family to share personal experiences. Many industries have embraced blogging, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and other more specialized communities to conduct very effective outreach to their customers, partners, and employees. I use these tools myself extensively to communicate with peers and stay abreast of the fast changing landscape in the technology industry. For healthcare providers, social media is proving to be a tremendous asset for both improving patient access and more efficiently and effectively delivering care.
The Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, the health services research arm of Deloitte LLP, recently produced a research paper on Social Networks in Health Care which demonstrates clearly some of the tangible benefits that social networks can bring to health care. According to the Deloitte study, more than 50% of the people surveyed get their healthcare information online and 60% of physicians want to use social networks, such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, for professional purposes. With both patients and providers leveraging the same technologies, the opportunity exists to bring them together in ways that were simply not possible even five years ago.
One of the most successful niche social networks for healthcare is PatientsLikeMe, a web site with significant social tools and data sharing dedicated to helping patients find others with similar conditions and enabling spontaneous support groups. PatientsLikeMe was founded for the very reasons that social networking is gaining immense traction throughout healthcare, a small group of engineers wanted to solve the problem of how to become as informed as possible about the treatments and life issues surrounding serious ailments. The data sharing platform of PatientsLikeMe enables insights into the effects and responses to treatment that would be near impossible to get otherwise. PatientsLikeMe recently has expanded to include providing enhanced tools for patients to find and take advantage of clinical trials.
Beyond patient focused activities there is a growing trend for healthcare providers to leverage social networking for patient outreach, professional development, and breaking new ground in the business aspects of healthcare.
An excellent example of healthcare providers using social networks to converge patient care and advocacy is the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media. The Mayo Clinic is pioneering ways for hospital administration, medical professionals, and patients can engage with each other to provide a richer and more effective health experience. The Mayo Clinic Social Media Health Network portal is one of the services provided which gives access to tools, resources and best practices for both individuals and organizations world-wide. The network currently includes hospitals, universities, industry partners and clinicians in five countries.
Perhaps one of the most important efforts of the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media is the extensive outreach and educational opportunities provided to bring social networking more deeply into healthcare. Through conferences, webinars, and a very innovative residency program Mayo Clinic, is the leading edge of fully leveraging social media to enhance the patient care system.
A somewhat controversial aspect of social networking and healthcare is in marketing and advertising. Every type of organization involved in the healthcare industry, from hospitals to pharmaceutical companies, are learning to embrace the remarkable depth and breadth of reach afforded by social networks. From hospitals using Twitter to broadcast live from the operating theater to pharmaceutical companies using facebook to announce a new drug, social networking provides a resource to touch people in ways that traditional media can’t match.
In February of 2009 Henry Ford Hospital Tweeted live from the operating theater during surgery to remove a cancerous tumor. Throughout the operation updates were provided using Twitter that detailed the procedures being used, status of the patient, and information of what to expect at the various stages of surgery. Many thousands of people followed along as doctors worked to remove the cancer. The operation proved to be more dramatic than originally planned when the tumor was discovered to be much larger than first thought, enhancing the drama of the event and adding a “what could happen next” excitement to the proceedings.
There are likely many questions around what of substance was gained by live Tweeting from the surgery, but without a doubt it provided a huge boost in visibility and name recognition to Henry Ford Hospital. Broadcasting over Twitter allowed Henry Ford to reach out to potentially millions of future patients and show off their medical skill and technological savvy, and become instantly memorable for surgeons dealing with the unexpected with remarkable calm and ultimate success. As an advertisement it would be hard to ask for more.
On the other side of the business of healthcare are the pharmaceutical and medical equipment companies pitching the latest drugs, therapies and devices. Social networks are new ground for these corporations to explore both traditional “on label” information campaigns, as well as highly profitable “off label” business pursuits. This is such a contentious area, and the ability of social media to reach an astounding number of people in near real time, that the FDA has acted incredibly fast (for a government bureaucracy) to address the new social landscape.
The FDA recently released "Responding to Unsolicited Requests for Off-Label Information About Prescription Drugs and Medical Devices," a document giving guidelines to pharma about how to approach new media, such as social networks, for communicating off-label information. The speed at which the FDA has started opining gives credence to the scope and potential to influence that social networking represents to the general public.
Overall social networks present a tremendous opportunity for every aspect of the healthcare industry. The use of social systems benefits the patient through enhanced advocacy, access to information, and the ability to interact meaningfully with others having similar conditions. For medical professionals social media and networking enables stronger peer interaction, closer ties to patients and their care, and the opportunity to publicly share their skills and experience. Healthcare corporations can leverage social media to inform both patients and providers of the latest offerings and best practices, although there is also a significant potential for misinformation and thought shaping that should be watched closely.
Social media and social networks are among the fastest growing trends in human interaction, it is happening with or without the healthcare industry’s participation making it in their best interests to participate and take part in shaping the message.