Where Social Media and Health Informatics Intersect

Healthcare professionals have long understood social media is a great way to boost their brands, share helpful tips and pass long practice-specific information to patients in an expedient fashion. After all, many patients are already engaged on sites such as Facebook and Twitter.


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Using these social media streams for the implementation of the EHR and other tele-health efforts might not seem as intuitive, especially when privacy is taken into account.  There are some compelling reasons, however, for health informatics specialists and medical professionals to consider the usefulness of social media as a tool in day-to-day practice.

How to engage the patient?

With EHR requirements calling for more patient engagement and greater input of patient-reported data, many say it stands to reason that social media channels could provide valuable information about patients that can assist in enhancing their care.

Consider that some people may not call their doctor’s office to report feeling dizzy after starting a new medication, but they might mention it on social media. Likewise, a person with a banged up arm might post a photo of the injury, but not realize that medical treatment could be in order.

Experts say this is valuable patient data that could lend itself to opening the door for better engagement with patients and enhanced care.

“Information and data that are obtained or generated as a result of these interactions have a valid place in the patient record—as valid as nearly any other self-reported piece of information,” said Jared Rhoads, senior research specialist with CSC’s Global Institute for Emerging Healthcare Practices, in an article for EHR Intelligence.

Rhoads, however, warns that this is largely uncharted territory.


Using Social Media for Patient Engagement

While clinics may shy away from having their health informatics specialists glean information from patient social media pages for the EHR, social media is a viable, often untapped tool for enhancing patient engagement. Some of the ways clinics can help create more open communication between medical professionals and patients to extend the patient experience beyond the clinic doors include:

  • Using social media as an educational tool to answer some of the most common questions patients have
  • Using social media to respond and react to health-care related news
  • Leveraging social media to cast a clinic as a reliable source of information related to healthcare topics and, thus, discouraging patients from seeking out other, often unreliable, online sources
  • Using social media channels to host online discussion groups related to health, exercise, nutrition and so on

Need some help to figure it out? 

Here is a great article that can help: The 6 Best Ways To Get More Patient Referrals Online

These social conversations might not translate into the EHR, but they can open the door to better relationships with patients that enhance overall care and communication.


Healthcare Goes Social


While direct patient contact via social media might not fit in with all practices at this time, healthcare itself is going social. Medical professionals now have at their disposal a host of sites designed especially for them and medical students.

These sites are designed to provide a platform for professionals to connect, share information, talk about best practices and reap the benefits of member knowledge. Some of the more popular sites for getting social in the medical arena include:

  • Doctorshangout This network is designed especially for doctors and medical students to share and learn from each other.
  • BioMedExperts – This network is meant to provide researchers a place to network, share information and talk about their latest findings.
  • referralMD – referralMD is a HIPAA-compliant social healthcare referral network for providers to exchange referrals, track and monetize referral sources, business development efforts, and patient status updates across organizations, locations, and specialties. Designed for admin, doctors, and C-levels.


Privacy and Policy Issues

HIPAAThe intersection of social media and health informatics is a brave new world that largely involves uncharted waters. With that in mind, professionals should tread lightly, understanding that patient privacy and HIPPA requirements are serious concerns.

In order to collect data from these streams for the EHR, professionals need to set policies in place on how such data might be collected and what would be done to safeguard it.

“Every tweet, blog comment, text message, and wall entry you and/or your organization colleagues upload or receive is a piece of content that, theoretically, should be reviewed and managed to ensure control, decorum and, perhaps, regulatory and records compliance,” Deborah Kohn, MPH, RHIA, FACHE, CPHIMS, principal of Dak Systems Consulting told EHR Intelligence. “For example, an individual social network status update or a tweet might not rise to the level of a record, but a protracted discussion on a particular topic over a given period on someone’s wall or via Twitter might qualify.”

With those issues in mind, Robert Green, author of “Community Healthcare: Finding a Common Ground with New Expectations in Healthcare,” recommends clinics create their own comprehensive social media policies. Ideal policies would not only reflect the need to protect PHI and keep interactions appropriate and respectful, but also allow discretion so that policies truly reflect the culture, vision and mission of the clinic in question.

As social media becomes engrained in everyday life, this venue provides unique opportunities for health informatics data collection and patient engagement. Clinics should proceed with caution, formulating policies that reflect PHI regulations, while considering the value these tools may provide in enhancing engagement and overall patient care.


Mobile Health Apps

Medical apps for smartphones are transforming the healthcare industry in terms of communication, education and patient care. These apps give healthcare providers on-the-go access to medical journals and a variety of tools, slides and videos. The general population also is benefiting from these technologies, which allow people to track everything from their caloric intake to chronic disease symptoms. Some platforms, such as Patients Like Me, also allow users living with specific conditions to connect, sharing their experiences, symptoms and physician recommendations.

Tools that allow patients to conveniently track symptoms and other relevant information can be used to assess their condition over time, giving a treating physician valuable data that can be used to make a more accurate diagnosis.


About the author: Ron Vatalaro

Ron Vatalaro works with the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine and writes about health informatics. Ron holds an advanced degree in Business Administration with a concentration in technology.

Images courtesy of : Bigstockphoto, Kaiser

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