Social media is creeping into everything that we do, even into the lives of the characters of the TV shows we watch. About a month ago, one of the main predicaments of a Grey’s Anatomy episode was if the surgical interns should be allowed to tweet about a live experimental procedure. At first the Chief of Surgery would not allow it because he wanted the interns to devote their full attention to the surgery in front of their eyes. Slowly but surely, the Chief was won over once he realized the interns were using twitter as an opportunity to create a forum around the world between hundreds of surgeons.
This new addition of twitter in the Grey’s Anatomy dialog reflects the reality of social media in the health care industry. According to a panel of doctors, physicians, and surgeons hosted by The Racepoint Group to discuss “Harnessing the Power of Social Media in Healthcare Communication,” social media is just beginning to infiltrate the healthcare professions. Many surgeons have personal Facebook accounts and a few have Twitter accounts, but so far they don’t use those accounts for their professional lives. Some current uses of social media are informative Facebook groups such as MacArthur OB/GYN group for teens with information about avoiding teen pregnancy and STD’s.
There is also another form of social media that reimburses physicians for electronic visits to websites about pilot projects. This is also linked to a change in patient care that is focused on quality of the visit instead of the number of appointments a physician may schedule in one day. If doctors and patients can connect frequently about the patients condition, then the full picture of all symptoms will be much clearer.
My own physician’s practice has a website that allows access to my medical records, my upcoming appointments and serves as an avenue to contact my physician personally. However, I have never used this website because I rarely see my physician besides my once-a-year check-up; I do not see the need for such a service if care is so sporadic.
I see Twitter and Facebook, and most likely YouTube becoming instrumental tools in teaching hospitals such as John’s Hopkins. If students are able to ask questions of their peers and their mentors about live surgeries, and even view videos of experimental procedures, new techniques will flourish.
The worry I have about Twitter and Facebook expanding into the healthcare industry is the overload that could ensue. If patients have access to their doctors and physicians through social media, will the professionals become haunted by their work? Healthcare professionals may never be able to put down or shut off their smart phones because they are expected to answer their patient’s needs. This could easily lead to abuse of health care professionals during all hours of the day. Hopefully this can be avoided, and social media will improve healthcare in ways we can only imagine.
Written by Sarah Vlach.