EHR software is not the only technology leap healthcare is making. More frequently than ever, social media is playing a role in healthcare. Doctors are Facebook messaging with patients, physicians have taken to Tweeting and MHADegree.org - a research group aimed at providing free data to students and healthcare professionals looking for degrees in health administration - has even compiled a list of the top 50 most social media friendly hospitals in the U.S.
In conversation with Healthcare IT News, Bethanny Parker, the editor of MHADegree.org and the author of the top 50 list, explained some of the benefits social media has to offer healthcare facilities.
• Spreads awareness
Social media is great for individuals who want to share pictures, life updates or random thoughts and photos of their lunches. But as Parker observed, there is no reason this mass-messaging and very public tool could not be used to share critical healthcare information. Social media's viral nature helps news spread fast.
• Providing answers
The news source cited a statistic from a recent Journal of Medical Internet Research study. It said that approximately 60 percent of Internet users say they use the web to do basic research on health information. Rather than having patients rely solely on user-generated online wikis, doctors could become that resource - and be far more reliable.
• Eliminating 'white coat syndrome'
Most people do not enjoy visiting the doctor - they find it to be a source of extreme stress. White coat syndrome can sometimes keep patients from taking the first step toward treatment, as Parker noted. But social media offers a far less threatening and more "neutral" ground on which to relay information. That being said, it should not take the place of regular physicals or serious diagnoses.
• New frontiers
Social media keeps evolving, as the news source pointed out. Who knows what new tools and options for disseminating healthcare information may show up in the coming years. Like EHR systems and new digitized workflows for billing and practice management software, the options for social media are only just beginning to be explored.
Doctor-to-doctor social networks
A large part of the conversation about social media and healthcare does not relate to Facebook or Twitter. It is instead concerned solely with doctor-to-doctor communications and how social networking components could improve health information exchange (HIE). As EHRIntelligence noted, physicians are sharing patient records with colleagues already through social networks designed to be compliant with the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). While this is not the large-scale interoperability that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) or the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) have promoted as the future of HIE, it is a start.
EHRIntelligence noted that social network sharing may be too limited in scope compared to HIE, which has a more solid infrastructure and data standards. But they do present an easy-to-use and attractive way to conduct basic data exchange for now.
Social networks have the benefits of slicker interfaces, the news source noted, and most importantly they are equipped with familiar features that many doctors already use in their everyday lives outside the office. Not insignificant either is the fact that social media avoids the logistical hang-ups that HIEs can run into, where legal contracts, participation fees and tech upgrades can cause trouble.
While not a replacement, social networks are an excellent stand-in until federal policy gets ironed out and the first stages of nationwide interoperability get off the ground.