Recent trends: How hospitals and physicians are using social media for mainstream communication

Recent trends: How hospitals and physicians are using social media for mainstream communication

Robert S. Miller, FASCO

Nov 10, 2010

In recent weeks, I have seen quite a number of blog posts, articles, and Tweets about social media and the medical profession that continue to illustrate how mainstream these Web 2.0 technologies and applications have become across the spectrum of medical care. Here is a sampling of items I found interesting:

  1. This month, the AMA's American Medical News covered a trend showing that hospitals are hiring "social media managers," individuals responsible for overseeing a hospital's social media presence including its use of blogs,Twitter, Facebook, podcasts, and You Tube video, as well as educating its administrators and physicians on them. Examples include Dana Lewis at Seattle's Swedish Medical Center and Lee Aase at the Mayo Clinic.
  2. The Mayo Clinic recently opened a Center For Social Media, building on their reputation as a pioneer in this form of communication. I didn't know this, but according to the Mayo web site, they have the most popular medical provider channel on You Tube. When I checked yesterday, the count was up to 976 videos. I applaud this statement of their philosophy:

    Mayo Clinic believes individuals have the right and responsibility to advocate for their own health, and that it is our responsibility to help them use social media tools to get the best information, connect with providers and with each other, and inspire healthy choices. We intend to lead the health care community in applying these revolutionary tools to spread knowledge and encourage collaboration among providers, improving health care quality everywhere. 

  3. The September 25, 2010, issue of Oncology Times profiled Anas Younes, MD, a Professor of Medicine in the Department of Lymphoma/Myeloma at MD Anderson, who is active on Twitter and posts regularly on the MD Anderson Cancerwise blog page on a variety of topics on hematologic malignancies. Most remarkably, You Tube and his Facebook site have become tools for recruiting lymphoma patients for clinical trials at his institution.
  4. Physician blogger Bryan Vartabedian, a pediatric gastroenterologist at Baylor, who writes the articulate and insightful blog 33 Charts noted in a recent post entitled "Should We Pay Doctors to Communicate?" how difficult it is to care for patients all day long and try to create content (for blogs, You Tube, etc.) after hours, since insurers and most institutions don't reimburse physicians a penny for the time spent on these activities. Physician voices are critically important in social media; few want to pay for its creation.
  5. The AMA, at their 2010 Interim Meeting of the House of Delegates, which took place in San Diego November 6-9, released a policy entitled "Professionalism in the Use of Social Media." They recommend, not surprisingly, that physicians should always be aware of patient privacy and confidentiality standards in social media and should never post identifiable patient information online. They urge recognition of boundaries between patients and physicians, alluding to the oft-asked question of what to do if a patient tries to friend you on Facebook. The guideline also reminds physicians that "the Internet is permanent" (my words), so you should assume anything and everything you post online will always be there and could negatively affect your reputation if inappropriate or open to misinterpretation. I must admit I was hoping for something a little more robust and practical from the AMA. The policy is an anemic 358 words, and these recommendations are not exactly earthshaking. I would like to have seen a more positive statement about the benefits of social media including the enhancement of patient-physician communication and professional education. At least they have a policy statement!


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