A recent report from Forrester Research indicates that the use of social networking websites among people aged 35 to 54 increased by 60 percent in the last year. Twitter and Facebook have become popular among federal centers like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (@CDCemergency), hospitals like the University of Maryland Medical System (University of Maryland Medical Center – @UMMC), and even individual doctors.
Through Twitter, doctors are able to post updates about the events of their day, connect with other healthcare workers, communicate with and inform patients, and even document surgeries and procedures. Results of a recent study by the American Telemedicine Association indicate that doctors and patients have seen beneficial outcomes from using Twitter to connect. Some healthcare providers, like pediatric gastroenterologist Bryan Vartabedian, MD (@Doctor_V), chose to use Twitter as a means to extend their web presence and communicate with existing and potential patients. Clinical nurse Phil Baumann notes additional medical uses for Twitter, including:
- Disaster alerting and response,
- Diabetes management including blood glucose tracking,
- Drug safety alerts from the FDA,
- Biomedical device data capture and reporting,
- Shift-bidding for healthcare professionals,
- Diagnostic brainstorming,
- Rare disease tracking and resource connection,
- Smoking cessation assistance,
- Broadcasting infant care tips for new patients, and
- Post-discharge patient follow-up and consultation.
Dr. Joseph Kvedar (@jkvedar), the Director of the Center for Connected Health and iCons in Medicine Member, describes Twitter as “a method of mass communication” that is real-time and “designed for mobility.” The ability to constantly update information also makes Twitter particularly appealing to government health organizations such as the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (@CDCemergency) and the UK’s NHS (@NHSChoices). Using Twitter, these agencies are able to provide up-to-the-minute information regarding disease outbreaks, contact numbers to call for assistance, and other pertinent information. Medical associations such as the Radiological Society of North America (@RSNA), Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (@HIMSS), and the Biotechnology Industry Organization (@BIOConvention) also use Twitter to keep their members informed about current news, promote events and meetings, and provide a sense of community.
While some providers use Twitter to connect with their patients and peers, others use it to provide information and updates during medical procedures. Recently surgeons in Iowa used Twitter to allow a woman’s family to follow the progress of her surgery in real-time. The Children’s Medical Center in Dallas provided updates when a father’s kidney was transplanted into his son, and the Henry Ford Medical Center (Henry Ford Health System – @henryfordnews) has tweeted during several procedures since January. These updates provide individuals who might not be comfortable watching a surgical procedure to still gain an understanding of the process and a chance to ask questions.
For the 61 percent of Americans who search online for medical advice, Twitter may not provide enough information. The social networking website Facebook allows healthcare workers or medical associations to connect with colleagues and patients. For the reported 55 percent of patients who want to be able to communicate with their doctors via email (according to a Manhattan Research study) it can offer another means of communication. Dr. William Cooper, a cardiothoracic surgeon, says that Facebook presents a way to always be available to his patients. According to Pauline Chen, MD (@paulinechen), it is unclear if engagement via Facebook and Twitter helps or hinders a patient-doctor relationship.
This concern is echoed by other physicians, including Dr. Sachin Jain, a resident physician at Bringham and Woman’s Hospital, who has accepted Facebook friend requests from patients, but “wondered about the appropriateness of the interaction.” In addition to the expectation that a physician would be “instantly available 24/7,” some doctors worry about the security of Facebook and other social networking websites, as well as potential HIPAA violations and litigation concerns. For many physicians, Facebook, Twitter, and other forms of social media are seen as “blurring the line between work and private life” – something that may cause some hesitation and discomfort.
The New York Times on Twitter Users – USA Today/Science Fair on the Medical Uses of Twitter – Associated Press on Tweeting During Operations – On Medical Associations Using Twitter – Dr. Pauline Chen on Twitter – CNN on Physicians on Facebook – More on Physicians and Medical Professionals Using Twitter
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