Hospitals and healthcare facilities all over the U.S. are integrating Facebook, Twitter and even mobile apps into their work, in an effort to improve patient-doctor communication.
Rochester, Minn.-based Mayo Clinic, which established the “Center for Social Media” on its campus, is training healthcare professionals on how to use social media to improve patient care. For example, doctors and nurses are learning to use Facebook and Twitter to set up appointments and answer questions with the goal of putting patients’ needs first.
At Sarasota Memorial Hospital in Florida, patients simply tweet their doctor when they have questions about their care, while physicians at Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center keep tabs on patients through Facebook so that they are notified of their recovery.
Social media has even helped the medical profession spread awareness and education of their work. During real-time brain surgery in March 2009, doctors at Detroit’s Henry Ford Hospital answered questions via tweets, broadcasting to more than 1,900 followers. Twitter allows students to participate in rare surgeries, making the live-update service a great resource for medical schools.
Apps have also been boosted in the healthcare industry, taking advantage of smartphones’ ubiquity among patients as well as doctors. “ER Extra,” a free app, allows iPhone or iPad users to learn the current emergency room wait time in several hospital networks, allowing patients to go to the least busy hospital in the area.
These are very early days in the use of social media, and there are risks as well as rewards, especially in such a highly-regulated field like medicine and healthcare. Doctors must take care to protect patients’ privacy. A recent study found that tweets published by doctors breached patient confidentiality in three percent of cases, indicating that medical professionals still need to be trained to respect patient rights in social media.