Medicine in the Social Media/Web 2.0 World

The profession of Medicine has always been slow to innovate and to change. Dr. Ignaz Semmelweiss promoted hand washing as a way to prevent or decrease the spread of infections in 1847. Despite no evidence of any harm, beyond the chafing of a few physician hands from harsh lye soap, his finding was widely critized and rejected. After all, infection could not possibly come from the very hands of these great medical professionals. Even to this day (2014), doctors have the worst rate of hand washing of all medical professionals (Doctors are Worst Hand-Hygiene Offenders). Given that Social Media has been around for only a decade or so, medical professionals haven’t been exactly jumping all over each other to get on board. After all, we, as providers, are already busy; and, why would patients want to connect with us on FaceBook, Twitter or YouTube? However, a few of us have seen the benefits and have made inroads into getting connected.

There are now quite a number of doctors, nurses and other medical providers who have started making inroads into the social media networks despite the naysayers. We are continually warned of the risks of lawsuits and patient harm by inappropriately interpreting what we say online. We beg to differ and so do those patients who are helped everyday. One site that has now helped millions is HealthTap. This site has now moved into actual telemedicine visits. However, it began as a way for patients and doctors to connect around various health questions and disease processes. The questions varied from the mundane to the highly complex. Physician skill levels varied from the lowly Family Practitioner (me!) to the super specialized. This allowed for practitioners with interests and skills in special (often obscure) disease processes to connect with patients suffering from said processes. A definite win-win for both patient and provider alike. Others, were even able to get a diagnosis for a problem they had been to multiple specialists for without answer.

Personally, I am active on Social Media on a number of sites. I operate a blog (I am now in the process of revamping this) on WordPress that discusses the difficulties patients, doctors and society face in today’s HealthCare environment. I have and will be discussing ways in which patients can get the most from each of their doctor’s visits (especially with high deductibles, this is important). I have also posted a video on YouTube listing some of my advice. While I have not reached a huge audience (I know, my production values aren’t great…But I’ve tweeted George Lucas, so watch out!), I am hopeful to help at least one person. Truly, that is what Social Media is all about! Reaching out and touching (hopefully in a helpful and respectful way) your fellow man.  I am also very active on Twitter. I have made contact with hundreds of like-minded physicians and tweeted or retweeted hundreds of articles on nutrition, health services, philosophy and more. Again, if this helps even one other person to be healthier and happier, I have completed my mission as a person, a social media advocate and as a physician.

Despite all this and no evidence I am aware of that harm has occurred (even a Google search didn’t reveal anything negative!), countless professionals (especially the lawyers!!) continue to promote the evils of Medicine in a Web 2.0/Social Media world. It took us many decades to begin to understand and agree that washing our hands would make everyone better and healthier (although we still don’t do a good job of practicing it, see above). I remain optimistic that the power of Social Media to help patients and society as a whole will not be ignored for a similar period of time.

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