Mid-Atlantic Health Law TOPICS

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Social Media & the Medical Doctor - Summer 2012


It took radio almost 40 years to reach 50 million users; TV almost 15 years; and the internet about 5 years. Facebook reached 50 million users in about a year. A short 8 years later, 10 times that number, or 500 million people throughout the world, are connecting with others through Facebook.

Based on data collected in 2010, about 42% of physicians accessed social media sites for personal use. One year later, the numbers grew to 90%, higher than the general adult population. Still, physicians for the most part do not use social media channels professionally.

Their patients, however, spend a good deal of time online using social media to research their symptoms, discuss their health care issues with others, and for referral information. Patients trust their families, friends, colleagues and even strangers. The best advertisements used to be word of mouth. Now it is the online equivalent.

Clearly, online conversations about health care providers/organizations are happening with or without them. The genie is out of the bottle. Patients want multi-faceted communications, with the velocity and volume currently enabled only by social media.

The very ubiquity of social media use by patients may ultimately compel providers to re-think their lack of professional use. Practitioners who use social media may actually reach their patients more frequently and more substantially, creating deeper relationships. So what holds a doctor back?

Fear. Fear of violating someone's privacy. Fear of violating HIPAA. Fear of negative feedback. That and the fact that a doctor sees patients, dictates charts, negotiates with payers about billing and collections, takes calls, spends time with his or her family, eats and sleeps. Just when is the doctor supposed to engage professionally through social media channels? There just are not enough hours in each day.

Next issue: How can health care professionals and organizations jump on the social media juggernaut?