Blog | Monday, June 18, 2012

Social docs

What is "social medicine"?

For some, it becomes a discussion of doctors and other health professionals who have jumped into the social media fray. Whether it's blogging, Twitter, Facebook or the like.

Which raises a question:

Does it matter to you if your doctor has a social media "presence?" Do you care if your doctor has a Twitter feed or blog?

The blogosphere is full of doctors and patients who care deeply about social media. It's generational. Twenty-somethings simply expect to be able to find information, both about medical topics and about their doctors on the web. But it's not just the young ones. The fear is that not establishing a presence will cause "brick and mortar" doctors to lose business if they aren't social media-savvy.

What do you think? Do you e-mail your doctor? Is your doctor willing to e-mail you?

Research shows that less than 10% of doctors communicate with patients via e-mail. Reasons for this include:
--another source of traffic to tend to,
--no compensation for the time and energy, and
--a perceived lack of security regarding personal health information.

Patients that do have e-mail communication with their doctors are enthusiastic about it. It saves time. It saves visits. Therefore it saves money. Satisfaction is high.

With the adoption of electronic health records (EHRs), practices often buy systems that include patient portals. These are clunky but secure channels that allow patients to see some of their health records and get some questions electronically answered. Too often the portals simply are tools to generate more visits to the office.

Entrepreneurs are furiously trying to develop applications to address the present need for patents to better communicate with their doctors.

One such company is Twistle (disclaimer: I am one of their physician advisors), a Seattle-based startup that is beta-testing a delightful, secure communication tool for doctors to talk to each other, our staffs, and our patients.

Whether Twistle is successful largely depends on its ability to meet the expectations of the marketplace and garner market share and attention for its application. Whether you're a doctor or a patient, I encourage you to try it and see what you think. Your feedback is welcome.

"Social medicine" also brings to mind the social purpose, or social utility of the profession. This week thought leaders are coming from around the nation to Tulsa, Oklahoma, to discuss the question, "What is the social mission of medical education in the 21st century?"

It's all part of an effort known as Beyond Flexner 2012, a Kellogg foundation-funded study that looks at innovative ways of educating doctors to care not just for patients but also for entire communities.

This post by John H. Schumann, MD, FACP, originally appeared at GlassHospital. Dr. Schumann is a general internist. His blog, GlassHospital, seeks to bring transparency to medical practice and to improve the patient experience.