More Doctors Using Social Media to Communicate with Patients

By Maria Smith

Everyone is using social media to communicate better these days. Teachers have their own blogs. Celebrities announce their big news via Twitter. Even grandparents are getting in on the act and setting up Facebook pages and Internet dating sites. But now an unlikely group is starting to see the value of social media and use it for themselves.

That group? Doctors!

Some physicians across the country are ditching the old model of passing out outdated brochures and only communicating with patients with a quick phone call or a 15 minute in person visit.

They are texting patients to see how a particular medicine is working. They have started blogs and make a point to read their patients' blogs too. They "friend" patients on Facebook and follow them on Twitter. There are some technologically advanced doctors who even use QR codes and post links to informational websites around their office. In short, they use social networking like most people do, to stay connected and engaged to those around them.

Admittedly, the number of doctors using technology to communicate with their patients is small. Many doctors still cling to pen and paper, fearing that technology can compromise a patient's privacy or that it does not add to their bottom line. However, there is a growing number of doctors who see thing differently.

Being able to have access to a doctor, especially a pediatrician, is very valuable and some doctors are charging patients for the privilege. Others simply see it as a way to enhance a doctor-patient relationship and give a value-added aspect of service. For some doctors, responding to patients via text or email may be easier and quicker then returning phone calls after office hours are finished.

One group which is particularly eager for social media or technological communication from their doctor are teenagers. Teens often do not see their doctor regularly if they are not sick, and save for a yearly exam, they might stop by the office one or two times a year for school forms or sports physicals. But teens are also very susceptible to a range of issues from mental health issues, to sexuality questions, to weight problems. Being able to text a doctor who knows them can help teens talk about uncomfortable topics in a way that is very familiar to them.

Though not all doctors see the positive side of technology, even the American Medical Association notes that there are some benefits from using social media. They also warn doctors about the need to protect patient privacy and to make sure there are appropriate personal boundaries between themselves and their patients. With that in mind, perhaps more doctors will now take advantage of the benefits social media can offer.

Sources: Web. 17 October 2012. "New breed of doctors turn to social media texting for patient care". Web. Published 8 October 2012. "Texting the teenage patient".

Reviewed October 18, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith