It is easy to look at public social media like Google+, Facebook, Twitter and Linked In and make a generalized statement regarding how social networks can help doctors improve their relationship with patients or help doctors market their private practice.
There is no one size fits all for social networks and healthcare.
When you (a doctor) or you (a patient or caregiver) consider how to make the most of social networks you need to consider your personal and business requirements.
There are 6 key applications for social networks for doctors and patients. One or more will be a good fit for your your personal and/or business needs.
Each of the 6 applications has a particular set of requirements and as such, fits a particular type of constituency, media and social network topology:
(1) Information gathering by patients – Dr. Google is an excellent source of information starting with the Scholarly articles, followed by Wikipedia. The best sources are evidence based studies and there is no reason a patient should not read EBM articles and come prepared to his / her physician with relevant questions. Understanding that, it is questionable to say the least, to rely on information published on Facebook about medical issues – which is probably rife with post-hoc error. This is not exactly a social media application although the borders between search and social media are beginning to blur with question and answer communities like Quora.
(2) Marketing of services by doctors – Facebook and Twitter are excellent channels for doctors to market themselves and their services. I suppose hospitals could go this route also, although I imagine the average hospital is too clumsy to figure out social media…
This is of course a many to many topology. From this perspective – marketing cosmetic medicine or orthopedics is no different than marketing social media consulting services or clothing online.
(3) Doctor-patient relationship management – this is a 1:N private social network topology, where 1 doctor (or care team) interacts with N patients. The patients do not interact between themselves because of patient privacy issues. Data is shared on a patient-controlled discretionary basis only. The Facebook advertising model and chaotic grid topology is unsuitable as a social networking solution that enriches and amplifies the doctor-patient relationship.
(4) Patient-patient support communities – this is a N:N public social network – patientslikeme is the classic example and http://www.helpingwithcrohns.org/ is a great example of a specialized social network for people with Crohn’s disease.
(5) Doctor-doctor support communities – this is an N:N private social network like Sermo.
(6) Pharma-patient communities – a number of the pharmas have been toying with this over the years. It’s an interesting opportunity for pharmaceutical companies to learn from patient-reported outcomes with innovative services such as ginger.io
Dennis Urbaniak (@DUrbaniak), VP of U.S. Diabetes at Sanofi-Aventis says that their offering of a $100,000 prize has “yielded ideas in six months that would have taken four to five years to develop at ten times the cost.” The growth and success of their 2011 challenge winner is Ginger.io, a behavior analytics company that helps patients and healthcare enterprises manage diseases. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rosina-samadani/big-pharma-is-innovating-_b_1242071.html
Social networking for healthcare has a bright future.
Each of these channels is growing rapidly and each has it’s place under the sun. There is room for everyone but you need to consider your personal and business requirements in order to choose the right application for you.
- Increase patient confidence
- Give you complete privacy
- Increased compliance
- Better outcomes