Social Media and Healthcare
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Social Media and Healthcare
Articles and Discussions on the intersection of Social Media and Healthcare.
Relevant to Healthcare Practitioners, Pharma', Insurance, Clinicians, Labs, Health IT Vendors, Health Marketeers, Health Policy Makers, Hospital Administrators.
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Why It's OK to Tweet About Cancer

Why It's OK to Tweet About Cancer | Social Media and Healthcare |

Ken Jennings — yes, that Ken Jennings — put it best. "Terrified I might get cancer," he tweeted this morning, "because what if Bill and Emma Keller yell at me."

He was referring to a pair of opinion pieces — Bill's, in The New York Times, and Emma's, in theGuardian — that assess the ethical dimensions of cancer. Both Kellers tell the story of a woman named Lisa Bonchek Adams, who has stage 4 breast cancer and has been tweeting andblogging her experience. (Bill learned about her from Emma; they're married.) Both Kellers are concerned about Adams — but also, and sometimes seemingly more so, about her tweets. Bill frets about Adams's "decision to live her cancer onstage," Emma about her own "voyeurism" toward Adams's cancer tweets. Call it cansplaining.

And both Kellers, ultimately, are vigilant about the moral dimensions of fighting the disease and then tweeting the fight — especially when that fight is painful and, they say, unwinnable. As theGuardian's piece puts it, teasingly: "The ethical questions abound. Make your own judgement."

What exactly are those abundant ethical questions, though? And what, precisely, begs to be judged? Here, let Emma Keller elaborate: "Should there be boundaries in this kind of experience?" she asks. "Is there such a thing as TMI?"

This is a needless ontology; of course there is such a thing, and not just because an Urban Dictionary entry from 2002 says so. But the I, if we're going to be all '02 about it, can be TM only contingently: The excess will depend on circumstance, on audience, on the information being shared. Emma Keller, being an intelligent person, undoubtedly knows this. Emma Keller, being a frequent user of Twitter, also undoubtedly realizes that there is a nicely efficient way to quash her own anxieties about Adams's tweets: Stop receiving them. Unfollow Adams. Mute her. Excise and/or exorcise her story. Problem, such as it is, solved.

But that would be too easy. Or, rather, that would prevent the writer from gathering the fodder required to write a properly substantiated think piece. To ignore Adams would be to foreclose the possibility of extruding her experience into pliable column material — and to reject the casual entitlement that converts lived suffering into moral questioning.

Take this line from Bill: "Her decision to live her cancer onstage invites us to think about it, debate it, learn from it."

Look how deftly this moves from Adams herself to the universal "us," the preferred pronoun of think-piece idiom. Look how swiftly the logic sweeps from "her decision" to "our debates." Look how hungrily it appropriates a single woman's tweets into a matter of universal (and educational! and ethical!) concern — how voraciously Adams's experience gets transformed into a broader, more succulent truth. "What is the appeal of watching someone trying to stay alive?" Emma Keller asks, on behalf of herself. And then, seamlessly, breathlessly, on behalf of us all: "Is this the new way of death?"

Spoiler: It is not. It is one person, dealing with things in the best way she knows how. Adams herself makes no claim to universality, or to ethical authority, or to any kind of symbolism about The Way We Live Now. It is the journalists — hungry for new insights, thirsty for new trends — who are saddling her with the freight of moral implication and then judging her for the audacity they infer. It is a remarkable trick. It is also a cruel one.

It is also — to take the Kellers' own decisions and think about them, debate them, learn from them — a revealing one. This is the thing so many eager think-piecers get so spectacularly wrong: Twitter is not a monolith. New cultural norms will not be decided, breathlessly, under its auspices. And there will be, consequently, no single "new way" of doing things — dying or anything else — on its platform. Not yet, anyway. Microblog is micro; that limitation is its appeal. It is what gives people the sense of freedom they have to use Twitter to experiment and fool around and, yes, innovate. Weird stuff springs up. Thousands of flowers bloom. Gardens, however, are exceedingly difficult to discern.

That's not to say that you can't find, among all the flourishing idiosyncrasy, broad trends emerging on the site. Twitter's API is doing this literally every second; fair-minded journalists are doing it with slightly less frequency. It is to say, though, that a single user does not a new norm make. To take an isolated use case and give it Trend status/We status/New Way Of status — and to do so, bafflingly, just because you find yourself troubled by your own twitchy sense of voyeurism — is a special kind of malfeasance. To cite the journalist Xeni Jardin's live-tweeting of her own cancer experience as evidence of a trend, as Emma Keller did, is yet another kind. (Yes, Jardin has cancer; no, it is not terminal.)

Keller's individual-to-aggregate transition here may fit the satirical standard ("one, two, trend"); it does not, however, fit any other kind. Instead, it takes the singular words of a singular human and uses them as a means to an end — that end being two think pieces, several page views, and one extremely questionable line of questioning.

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The social life of health information

The social life of health information | Social Media and Healthcare |

The online health community and the media lit up this week in a debate over whether it’s tasteful, appropriate or even beneficial to discuss one’s health problems with the world on social media.

While there’s been some discussion of the topic before, the news this week involved two prominent journalists who raised questions about one woman’s public approach to her life with stage IV breast cancer. Lisa Bonchek Adams, a 44-year-old mother of three, has lived with cancer for six years and developed a following among others diagnosed with cancer as well as clinicians, journalists and people who simply appreciate her perspectives.

Her tweets and blog posts address topics such as her approach to talking to her kids about her illness, her medical treatments and thoughts about facing the end of life. The Guardian’s Emma Keller wrote a column stating that “Adams was dying out loud.” A few days later, The New York Times’ Bill Keller (who is Emma’s husband) wrote a columnrelating his father-in-law’s “calm death” from cancer and asked whether Adams’ public updates about her health are the right approach.

We’ll leave the taste debate aside and instead look at the data about how many Americans gather and share health information online and whether there are any known benefits to doing so.

The Pew Research Center has studied the social life of health information since 2000 when we first measured how many people use online resources to find information or connect with others about health conditions.

Our latest national survey on the topic finds that seven-in-ten (72%) adult internet users say they have searched online for information about a range of health issues, the most popular being specific diseases and treatments. One-in-four (26%) adult internet users say they have read or watched someone else’s health experience about health or medical issues in the past 12 months. And 16% of adult internet users in the U.S. have gone online in the past 12 months to find others who share the same health concerns.

Caregivers and those living with chronic conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer, are more likely than other internet users to do all of these things. Clinicians are still the top source of health information in the U.S., according to the same survey, but online information, curated by peers, is a significant supplement.

The small group of people who use the internet and other online tools to connect with others are highly engaged. Of the 8% of internet users who say they have posted a health-related question or comment online within the past year, four-in-10 said they were sharing their personal health experience.

Our research shows that patients and caregivers have critical health information — about themselves, about each other, about treatments — and they want to share what they know to help other people. Technology helps to surface and organize that knowledge to make it useful for as many people as possible.

Some observers may think it is odd, but this online sharing could be the modern version of an age-old instinct to seek solace among peers. As Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1786, “Who then can so softly bind up the wound of another as he who has felt the same wound himself?”

Indeed, many clinicians recommend group support as part of a treatment plan for a wide range of issues, from weight loss to the management of chronic and life-changing diagnoses, such as cancer. Academic publication is a slow process, however, and the internet is evolving quickly, so there are relatively few studies measuring the effectiveness of social media.

However, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and other platforms seem uniquely suited to adapt to the changing needs of people living with chronic health conditions, particularly as patients move from the shock of a new diagnosis to long-term management. This is particularly true for people facing a rare disease diagnosis. A new research paper released earlier this month studied parents of children with rare chronic diseases and found that social media in particular provided an effective support network. This echoes our own findings and adds to the pile of evidence showing the psychosocial benefits of connecting online.

As one mother whose son has Canavan disease wrote in a book about rare-disease caregivers: “Before the internet, we were alone. In 1996, when Jacob was born, there was no search engine to offer me any information. Today, because of social media, we are connected with many people who are fighting the same fight as we are. The internet has made our small disease larger and we are able to educate many more people now.”

PatientsLikeMe, a health data-sharing platform, is one leader in the new field of using the internet to help patients, caregivers and researchers connect online. One study, published in Epilepsy & Behavior, showed that, prior to using the site, one-third of respondents (30%) did not know anyone else with epilepsy with whom they could talk. Now, two-thirds (63%) of those people had at least one other person with whom they could consult to gain a better understanding of seizures and learn about symptoms or treatments. Another study, published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, found that 41% of HIV patients who use the site said they had reduced their own risky behaviors thanks to online support and education.

Smoking cessation is another example of a health intervention that works well when people support each other online.  Members of an online support group like QuitNet stick around to help newcomers because they want to give back what they received when they were starting out.

In the end, this episode illustrates the confluence of two powerful forces:

  • an ancient instinct to seek and share advice about health
  • a newfound ability to do so at internet speed and at internet scale.

It may not be for everyone, but our research shows that the social life of health information is a durable trend.

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Why Healthcare Organizations Should Add Google+ to their Social Media Mix

Why Healthcare Organizations Should Add Google+ to their Social Media Mix | Social Media and Healthcare |

If you’re diligently updating Facebook and Twitter, you may feel like your healthcare organization’s social media is under control. But, if you’re not updating Google+, you’re missing out on a social-search powerhouse.

Google+ may not seem as popular as Facebook, which has more than 1 billion monthly users, but the social network still boasts 300 million active users. And, then there’s search—the word Google has become a verb for good reason. Google handles 100 billion searches every month.

So, what’s the connection between search and social?

Think about how your news spreads on Facebook. You post something. Your followers see it and some like or share it, adding to the likelihood that more people will see the information. The system relies on you to build your base or pay for ads.

The cool thing about Google+ is it does some of the work for you. Content spreads out like a web of expanding interconnections. When you post content on Google+, it spreads beyond your page to your followers’ pages so that their followers can see your content as well. And because of the integration of Google+ with Google search, this could lead to higher search rankings.

If your organization has a Google+ account linked to its key landing pages and blog posts, it will show up on the right-hand side of the Google search results page when people look you up. When it comes to search engines, it’s all about visibility. The second someone searches for you, they have the chance to interact with your content and start following your activity.

Web developers call this “rel=author.” In English, this means content is related to a specific author through their Google+ page. Here’s Matt Cutts, head of Google web spam, talking about how this will impact search rankings.

So, why is it that Google+, a powerful social media tool with the not-so-hidden bonus of integrating with Google search, doesn’t even register in the minds of many healthcare organizations? Why isn’t every healthcare organization using Google+?

3 reasons your healthcare organization is not using Google+ (yet):1. You are suffering from social burnout

The idea of updating one more site makes you want to cry. Trust us, Google+ is worth the effort.

2. Your patients are not using Google+

That may be true, but it’s likely that they are using Google to search for health information. Sharing content on Google+ may help your content rank higher in the search engine results.

3. Your organization doesn’t use Gmail

Yes, you do need a Gmail account to get started with Google+. But setting one up is free and takes five minutes. If your clinicians and team members have personal Gmail accounts, then they automatically have Google+ accounts, too. Ask them to follow your organization and start sharing content with their networks.

Here are 3 simple steps to get started on Google+:1. Set up a Google+ account

In order to set up a Google+ page for your organization, you—or someone in your organization—must first have a personal Google+ account. The good news is that if you use Gmail, you automatically have a Google+ account.

Don’t use Gmail? No problem. It’s easy (and free) to set up an address.

2. Set up your Google+ page

Here’s a video with 4 steps for setting up your healthcare organization’s Google+ page

3. Connect your Google+ account to your healthcare organization’s blog posts and landing pages

Web development guru Andy Crestodina has some easy instructions on how to do this.

Bonus: Try Google Authorship, a tool that establishes you as the official author of your website or blog’s content, explains the Google Webmaster blog. It looks like this:

Google has figured out that people like to read content from other people, not from anonymous entities. Giving a human face to your healthcare organization’s content, has been shown to dramatically increase traffic.

A January 2012 study by Catalyst Search Marketing found that “rich snippets”—like the Google Authorship blurbs—can increase site traffic by 150%.

But remember that when using Google+ for your organization, content quality always matters. If you link your organization to spammy, low-quality content, it can actually end up hurting your site’s search rankings in the long run.

Amanda Weiler's curator insight, January 24, 2014 3:49 AM

The organization Care Content is a media advocacy organization that aims to help health care providers conect with their patients through all types of media including provider websites and social media.

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Surgery for sale: The ethics of health care bartering in a social media marketplace

Surgery for sale: The ethics of health care bartering in a social media marketplace | Social Media and Healthcare |

When his medical insurance company refused to pay for his $70,000 hip replacement, Perry Hunt took matters into his own hands, according to an article on CNN's website.

His Web search for "cash surgeries" led him to Medibid—an online marketplace where doctors can bid—yes bid—on medical care. That $70,000 hip replacement Perry Hunt needed? A doctor on MediBid offered it to him for $21,000.

Here's how the bidding process works: Patients looking for medical care submit a request to MediBid—patients either pay $25 per request, or a $4.95 per-month membership fee. For an annual fee of $50-$250, doctors create profiles outlining their certifications and experience. When a patient requests a certain procedure, doctors can offer custom quotes. The idea is that the patient will continue accepting bids until he or she is satisfied with the price.

MediBid is just one example of the current push for more transparency in medical pricing. Because of the way insurance companies set up their billing, many patients agree to procedures without being fully aware of the final cost of the services rendered. MediBid allows doctors to cut out administrative and other mediated costs, so they can be more forthcoming about what a procedure will cost. A patient can agree to the price or continue to solicit bids.

While there are benefits to MediBid, users should approach the website with "a sense of caution," says Matthew DeCamp, assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics.

For DeCamp, cost transparency in health care is certainly a step in the right direction, but he wonders if it is "unequivocally a good thing." While MediBid encourages price transparency, DeCamp suggests it doesn't do so within the overall context of quality. "When patients get online," he says, "although they see the price, they don't have ready access to the quality of services they're being offered." Because of the bartering nature of MediBid, many bidders might impulsively accept the cheapest doctor without ever wondering about that doctor's qualifications or record.

Of course, some might argue that an uninsured patient in dire need of a lifesaving surgery isn't in a position to worry about picking the most qualified bidding doctor. Having the surgery done perfectly is less important than having the surgery done at all.

But here, too, DeCamp has reservations. "Are patients with acute illnesses really in the best position to judge the various prices being presented?" DeCamp wonders if our evaluation of sites like Medibid varies based on the type of service being sought. "We might think differently about a patient getting online for the best price on a colonoscopy, versus someone looking for a potentially lifesaving surgery, such as for cancer," he says. Patients who are desperate for health care might have their decision-making clouded by their desperation.

This is also problematic for DeCamp, who wonders whether patients realize that not all doctors are bidding on sites like MediBid. Could it be that only certain kinds of doctors —say, doctors whose own practices aren't meeting their financial bottom lines—use MediBid? If the supply of doctors isn't an accurate representation of the diversity that exists in the medical marketplace, then is MediBid as "free market" as it purports to be?

Over the past several decades, health care has become increasingly commodifed. Does MediBid further this trend or reverse it? Are doctors who offer their services on social media motivated by their exasperation with current insurance billing practices or by their desire to make an easier profit? Though MediBid might seem at first like a charitable website, there's no way of ensuring that only honest doctors will offer bids. And since MediBid allows doctors to set their own prices, it's possible that they will continue to overcharge for their services. As DeCamp says, "Although doctors may honestly want to help patients access their services, I don't think I would go so far as calling it altruism." Bidding doctors are also out to make a profit—patients should be aware of that.

As it stands, DeCamp remains undecided about MediBid's effectiveness. "Short of knowing who exactly is using the website, we just don't have enough information to know [how] widespread or how much impact, in terms of better access and lower costs, this phenomenon will have."

For now, though, it's certainly the case that MediBid adds a new dimension to the ongoing debate about health care costs and transparency. And though DeCamp has significant reservations about the site's implications, he encourages patients to "do their own homework." Researching a particular doctor before receiving treatment remains essential—both in the online and traditional medical marketplace.

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What is appropriate to post on social media? Ratings from students, faculty members and the public

What is appropriate to post on social media? Ratings from students, faculty members and the public | Social Media and Healthcare |

The purpose of this study was to ascertain what medical students, doctors and the public felt was unprofessional for medical students, as future doctors, to post on a social media site, Facebook®. The significance of this is that unprofessional content reflects poorly on a student, which in turn can significantly affect a patient’s confidence in that student’s clinical abilities.


An online survey was designed to investigate the perceptions of University of Michigan medical students, attending physicians and non-health care university-wide employees (that serves as a subset of the public) regarding mock medical students’ Facebook® profile screenshots. For each screenshot, respondents used a 5-point Likert scale to rate ‘appropriateness’ and whether they would be ‘comfortable’ having students posting such content as their future doctors.


Compared with medical students, faculty members and public groups rated images as significantly less appropriate (p < 0.001) and indicated that they would be less comfortable (p < 0.001) having posting students as future doctors. All three groups rated screenshots containing derogatory or private information about patients, followed by images suggesting marijuana use, as least appropriate. Images conveying intimate heterosexual couples were rated as most appropriate. Overall, the doctor group, females and older individuals were less permissive when compared with employee and student groups, males and younger individuals, respectively.


The most significant conclusion of our study is that faculty members, medical students and the ‘public’ have different thresholds of what is acceptable on a social networking site. Our findings will prove useful for students to consider the perspectives of patients and faculty members when considering what type of content to post on their social media sites. In this way, we hope that our findings provide insight for discussions, awareness and the development of guidelines related to online professionalism for medical students.

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Social Media Attitudes in Healthcare Slowly Changing

Social Media Attitudes in Healthcare Slowly Changing | Social Media and Healthcare |

The healthcare industry has been slow and cautious adopters of social media, but according to a 2013 study, attitudes are changing and providers are starting to understand the opportunities social media offers to build trust and loyalty with patients.

One-third of health consumers have sought information on the web related to other patients’ experiences. Four out of 10 consumers say they’veused social media to find health-related consumer reviews about treatments or physicians. The industry can ignore social media as long as it chooses to, but it doesn’t stop patients from communicating online. Healthcare professionals need to embrace social media today.

Healthcare providers who join the digital conversation can extend healthcare beyond the office. A solid social media listening and response program also enables providers to stay on top of potential issues and correct them before they turn into problems on HCAHPS surveys.

A recent study (published in the Journal of Communication in Healthcare) fromIdeahaus CEO Kevin Popovic surveyed over 100 healthcare communicators on their attitudes of healthcare-related social media use. Here are four main takeaways:

% of healthcare professionals who believe… (low % graph)

1. Healthcare professionals don’t think the Food and Drug Administration is doing an adequate monitoring job or has the resources it needs to do so.

A possible reason that healthcare industry is lagging behind other industries might be due to the FDA lack of guidance. Only 8% of  healthcare professionals surveyed (CIOs, CEOs, marketing directors, brand managers) believe the FDA is “doing an adequate job in managing the use of social media.”  Only 8% believe the FDA has the resources to improve. The FDA has provided rules for other communication channels, so some providers are continuing following those rules for social media as a similar precedent.

2. Healthcare professionals are split on the practice of monitoring social media sites to understand patients needs, concerns, and perception.

There is much uncertainty surrounding the adoption of social media platforms for a company’s marketing mix. For instance, 51% believe that healthcare companies are  misusing social media, while 49% believe companies are not. The key is to focus on creating a reliable, authentic, responsible voice that meets compliance needs and matches the tone of your traditional marketing efforts.

% of healthcare professionals who agree… (high % graph)

3. Authentic, responsible one-on-one conversation is still a challenge.

The respondents were given the choice of platform and channel appropriateness and the results were:

    • 68% YouTube
    • 62% LinkedIn
    • 60% Facebook
    • 42% Twitter
    • 30% Flickr

This goes to show that so far communicators are comfortable speaking in a mass communication way of one-to-many. They have greater difficulty engaging one-to-one where they no longer are just sharing information. Maybe this is due to uncertainty of what is legal and isn’t. (Our whitepaper can help you through this.)

4. If a company wants to use social media, they have to be prepared to manage the challenges of the medium.

Don’t jump into the social media space unprepared. Learn from others and make sure to stay up-to-date on the latest rules and regulations. Don’t just broadcast, have conversations. Listen, monitor and respond with transparency and built up trust.

What are some of the social media challenges that you face as a healthcare provider? Do you agree with these findings?

Leigh's curator insight, August 11, 2014 10:06 PM

I found this article particularly interesting because it focuses on social media and healthcare.  While the internet and social media can cause people to self-diagnose, I believe that physicians and other healthcare providers should maybe take this as an opportunity to encourage involvement.  While healthcare professionals should caution individuals from pursuing self-diagnosis and self-treatment, I believe they could put a spin on it and view it as an initiative for people to take interest in their own health.  This narrows the focus in on communication between patients and physicians/nurses and gives opportunity to open that line of communication.  That way, the physician can hear out what the patient has to say and in return, the physician can applaud the patient for becoming educating and offer professional advice from there on out.

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Facebook Can Help Doctors Today

Facebook Can Help Doctors Today | Social Media and Healthcare |

A recent search for doctors on Facebook reveals more than 1,000 pages including a mixed bag of public figures like Mehmet Oz, authors (Ben Carson), and inevitably, fictitious characters like Dr. House. Scroll down a bit and you will start to see pages for physicians with everyday types of practices.

Why would a physician be on Facebook? Because this is where their patients and potential patients spend time online. According to Pew, 72% of American adults who go online use Facebook.

Doctors Must Remember Their Practice Is A Businesses

Facebook is business-friendly and easy to use. Its business pages offer templates for different kinds of businesses and lets doctors designate themselves as a local business, a community resource, or a doctor or specialist. Doctors can also give themselves a Medical & Health designation.

A personal page is not permitted for any business. This works to your benefit as there are no hard feelings when you—rightly—decline to “friend” a patient. Facebook business pages do not allow Friends, only Likes.

Facebook’s business tools help businesses get information about people who visit their pages. Once you get 25 Likes for your page, you can personalize your URL and learn about your page’s performance, including:

    • People who visited, including gender, nation, city, language
    • Page reach, including the number of people who read a post and whether it was found “organically” or by a Facebook or other paid ad; and Likes, comments, and sharing
    • Post performance including information on how people engaged with a post by clicking on it, Liking, commenting, and sharing it
Target Your Ads to Specific Audiences

Facebook allows for highly targeted ads. According to a 2012 Nielson Study, its targeted advertising tool reaches 91% of its intended audience, compared to 27% of other online advertising.

You may pay for Facebook’s advertising based upon the number of clicks on an ad or the number of impressions your ad gets. It offers guidance on where to place an ad (in the News feed or on the right-side column) and lets you define a target audience as small as a zip code or city or as large as a state or country, and by age, gender and more.

For example, a doctor who is trying to sell a book on men’s health can choose a national audience of men ages 30-60, while one who wants to attract more patients in their 40s who live in Scottsdale, Arizona can drill down to this level. You can also decide on the days and times your ad appears.

Advertising data are provided and break down demographics of people who clicked on an ad for your page and how they interacted with it, when they visited, and for how long.

Another Way to Communicate With Patients

Posting general medical or health information on your Facebook page is a great way to reach out to current patients, potential patients, and people interested in what you have to say. The more who people who Like you, the more your page becomes visible to their network.

Let’s say you want to tell people about how the American Heart Association botched its new guidelines for statin treatments. Post an article about it with a comment summarizing your opinion. Something like “Don’t panic—they took it all back” can help soothe people who just learned (erroneously) they should have been taking Lipitor since middle school.

Never use your business page for personal communications. Follow HIPAA guidelines for any individual patient communication and for the management of your Facebook presence. This might mean choosing carefully who you have managing your Facebook page. Not everyone is familiar with the HIPAA guidelines.

Keep in mind too that HIPAA guidelines might influence whether a patient Likes your page. For example, I had a doctor client who was an endocrinologist specializing in Diabetes. One of her patients was hesitant to Like her Facebook page because she didn’t want other people to know my client was her doctor because then people would know she had diabetes.

Facebook Influences Decisions

Facebook is a trusted resource for many people. Someone seeking out a recommendation for a physician, or wanting learn more about a particular one, may turn to Facebook and their Facebook friends.

While developing your online strategy, doctors would be wise to put Facebook in the mix and give it some thought. Many will benefit from a strong Facebook presence.

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FDA Unveils Draft Guidance on Drugmakers' Social Media Use

FDA Unveils Draft Guidance on Drugmakers' Social Media Use | Social Media and Healthcare |

FDA released draft policy guidance indicating that pharmaceutical drug manufacturers and distributors would not be held responsible for information posted on social media about their products by consumers or providers, Modern Healthcare reports.


According to Modern Healthcare, the pharmaceutical industry has been reluctant to use social media platforms because it lacked FDA guidance on how such platforms could be used without violating certain prohibited promotion.

For example, pharmaceutical firms were concerned about being held accountable for social media posts by clinicians or patients promoting off-label use of their products. In addition, drugmakers are required to disclose side effect information when promoting their products, but social media posts by third parties might not include such data.

Details of Draft Policy Guidance

In the draft policy guidance, FDA notes that such companies are generally not accountable for user-generated content that is "truly independent," meaning it was not produced or solicited by the companies.

The draft guidance also states that pharmaceutical companies are not responsible for content published on websites they financially support but do not control editorially.

In addition, such companies will not be held accountable for promotional materials found on third-party websites as long as the pharmaceutical firms did not direct the promotion's placement on the website and did not have any other control or influence over the site.

Questions Remain

Experts say that there still are some unanswered questions that could deter pharmaceutical firms from embracing social media, such as:

  • When a social media post becomes advertising; and
  • How companies can include balanced information in social media formats that allow a maximum of 140 characters (Dickson, Modern Healthcare, 1/14).
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What's News in Healthcare Social Media - Jan 15 2014

Todd Hartley of WireBuzz and Kathi Browne of BrowneKnows Social Media opened by talking about the power of retargeting website visitors for healthcare market...
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FDA eases rules on ads in social media

FDA eases rules on ads in social media | Social Media and Healthcare |

Expect a modest increase in pharmaceutical ads on social media as a result of a new FDA draft guidance document just issued for comment. That's the expectation of industry observers who hailed the agency's long-awaited move as “a good start.”

Focused only on FDA's reporting requirements for ads on “interactive promotional media” (to use the agency's own terminology), the new document doesn't go as far as many have been hoping. That could come in July when the 2012 FDA Safety and Innovation Act (FDASIA) requires the agency to “issue guidance that describes FDA policy regarding the promotion, using the Internet (including social media), of medical products” that it regulates.

But for now, observers like APCO Worldwide's president of regulatory services and healthcare, Wayne Pines, praise the draft guidance for explaining, at last, what FDA holds companies accountable for on the Internet, after years of uncertainty.

“It also helps that FDA expects Form-2253 submissions periodically rather than every single time there is an addition or change on the Internet,” Pines said. “And FDA made clear that it will exercise enforcement discretion in issuing enforcement letters.

“I think that the regulated companies and the media/communications companies were expecting a much more detailed guidance, setting forth what they can and cannot do with social media. However, FDA has said all along that it applies the same regulatory standard to Internet/social media materials that it does to other promotional materials, namely that the claims be supported by substantial evidence and that there be a fair balance of risk information.”

Coalition for Healthcare Communication executive director John Kamp predicts the guidance will produce a modest increase in social media advertising, rather than “open the flood gates.” That's because, he said, FDA isn't the only or even the biggest reason for advertiser reluctance—there are lots of other reasons, plaintiffs' failure-to-warn suits being the biggest.

Kamp especially likes the flexibility FDA is offering in the guidance—companies can report their ads every day if they wish, or adhere to official deadlines.

Most significant to Kamp is that FDA has for the first time committed itself in the document to not holding advertisers responsible for things they don't control.

FDA's definition of “promotional labeling” is expansive, and in the new draft guidance it says no physical relationship between the promotional words and the product is necessary. The draft links to examples published in the Federal Register that, while antiquated, include non-printed materials like motion picture films, sound recordings, and “audio or visual matter descriptive of a drug …”

The agency has been elastic and quite imaginative in interpreting this section of its regulations to fit whatever industry comes up with on the Internet.

If it meets the new FDASIA law's July 9 deadline to elaborate on its policy toward Internet “promotional labeling” of all regulated medical products, look for more details then. Or shortly thereafter.

The document delineates, with examples, how FDA decides that a firm is “responsible” for information disseminated on social media by third parties.

In the case of user-generated content, the draft guidance says FDA will “exercise enforcement discretion” (read: take no enforcement action) if firms participating in such discussions one of five steps: (1) Submit all sites in their entirety on Forms 2253 or 2301 at the time of initial display; (2) in the case of a firm's interactive or real-time communication on a third-party site, submit the home page, the interactive page and the firm's first communication on either form at the time of initial display; (3)submit monthly updates of all non-restricted sites for which the firm is responsible; (4) submit all content from restricted sites that is related to the discussion, making sure the report accurately reflects the context; and (5) ensure that site submissions take formatting factors into consideration “to enable the agency to view the communications as a whole.”

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The new exam room: Mapping patient-physician interactions online

The new exam room: Mapping patient-physician interactions online | Social Media and Healthcare |

“I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: The most exciting innovation of the connected health era is … people talking to each other.”

Susannah Fox from Peer-to-peer health care is a slow idea that will change the world on, August 3, 2013

The concept of the empowered patient isn’t a new one – in fact, that characterization has evolved rapidly over the last several years. According to Health Online 2013 (Pew Internet & American Life Project, Susannah Fox) patients have actually advanced their level of empowerment from simple information-seeking to actual diagnosis – acceding to the report, 35% of American adults can now be classified as “Online Diagnosers.”

“As physicians, we have a moral responsibility to weigh in on dangerous inaccuracies in the media … Imagine a simple comment from … each of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ 65,000 pediatricians. We are in a position to own the search engines through our collective participation.” 

Bryan Vartabedian, MD from Participating in the conversation: A physician’s responsibility. Baylor College of Medicine Blog, August 7, 2013

We’ve seen a parallel movement among physicians in terms of online activity. Driven by a number of environmental factors. One of the most important is to balance the enormous amount of misinformation and spam online masquerading as health information – because doctors have the knowledge and experience to set the balance right. 

These two trends have begun to collide as never before. The best doctors are often the best students – they literally never stop learning and improving. Many of these leading-edge physicians have recognized that one of the greatest sources of learning are patients themselves.

“I do interact with patients online … I like to hear the stories about health issues they’re facing, and to follow their journeys … It helps me to understand what patients expect – or at least hope for – from their doctors.”

Danielle Jones, MD. Danielle Jones, MD – The MDigitalLife Interview. September 21, 2012

We’re now seeing a migration from relatively segregated Patient-Patient and Doctor-Doctor communities to online communities where both mingle freely, sharing and learning together. One of the most fascinating places to map that circumstance is on twitter, where the study of direct conversations between doctors and patients can be visualized to help us understand how those networks function. 

[If you have trouble viewing the embedded social network map, you can go directly to]

To create the chart below, we looked at the twitter conversations of 89 prominent ePatients and ePatient advocates to see how often they used the twitter handle (e.g., @DrAttai) of one of the more than 14,000 validated US physicians tracked in the MDigitalLife database. We then looked at the tweets from the 297 doctors mentioned by the ePatients, and identified every instance in which one of the ePatients was mentioned.

Using Google Fusion Charts, we were able to visualize those interactions to show the interconnectedness between the ePatients (yellow dots) and physicians (blue dots). Feel free to play around with the chart by dragging network nodes to change its shape, and buy changing the filters to show more or fewer nodes. 

While it’s difficult to gain many insights from viewing every single interaction, we found that when we looked only at doctors and patients who had interacted with each other at least 15 times, identifiable clusters began to emerge. A few examples:

  • There are clear communities based on therapeutic areas such as breast cancer (@DrAttai), heart health (@HugoOC) and blood cancers (@myelomateacher)
  • While there may be fewer online interactions outside the specialty/therapeutic area classification, ePatients and advocates like Dave DeBronkart (@ePatientDave) and Lisa Field (@PracticalWisdom) have a massive number of connections to the physician community, with no apparent focus on specialty
  • To a lesser degree, doctors like Bryan Vartabedian (@doctor_v), Howard Luks (@hjluks) have significant connections in the ePatient community that have little to do with their medical specialties (pediatric gastroenterology and orthopedic surgery respectively)

While it’s premature to assume that we fully understand the nature of those interactions, we can generalize in saying that these bellwether patients and doctors get benefit from their interactions in a more “meta” sense – they’re exploring the very nature of the evolving doctor-patient relationship.

I’ll end this post with a quote from one of my co-panelists at this week’s Digital Health Summit:

“Patients often only bring their narratives to the dialogue. If we want to get a proper seat at the table we need to do better than that.” 

Hugo Campos, ePatient Advisor, Stanford Medicine X

I’m fortunate to be on a panel at this week’s Digital Health Summit at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas with leading ePatients Hugo Campos and Donna Cryer; moderated by health technology thought leader Neil Versel  If you’re interested, you’ll definitely want to follow along with the #DHCES hashtag on twitter on Wednesday and Thursday, January 8 and 9. Our panel will be at 4:10 PM PST/1:10 PM EST on Wednesday the 8th, and is entitled “Loudmouth Patients: Making Noise and Making Change.”

With special thanks to the brilliance and hard work of Ben McKown and Yash Gad – they make data do strange and wonderful things!

- See more at:

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Doctors Can Use Facebook To Be More Accessible

Doctors Can Use Facebook To Be More Accessible | Social Media and Healthcare |

A recent search for doctors on Facebook reveals more than 1,000 pages including a mixed bag of public figures like Mehmet Oz, authors (Ben Carson), and inevitably, fictitious characters like Dr. House. Scroll down a bit and you will start to see pages for physicians with everyday types of practices.

Why would doctors be on Facebook? Because this is where their patients and potential patients spend time online. According to Pew, 72% of American adults who go online use Facebook.

Doctors Must Remember Their Practice Is A Businesses

Facebook is business-friendly and easy to use. Its business pages offer templates for different kinds of businesses and lets doctors designate themselves as a local business, a community resource, or a doctor or specialist. Doctors can also give themselves a Medical & Health designation.

A personal page is not permitted for any business. This works to your benefit as there are no hard feelings when you—rightly—decline to “friend” a patient. Facebook business pages do not allow Friends, only Likes.

Facebook’s business tools help businesses get information about people who visit their pages. Once you get 25 Likes for your page, you can personalize your URL and learn about your page’s performance, including:

    • People who visited, including gender, nation, city, language
    • Page reach, including the number of people who read a post and whether it was found “organically” or by a Facebook or other paid ad; and Likes, comments, and sharing
    • Post performance including information on how people engaged with a post by clicking on it, Liking, commenting, and sharing it
Target Your Ads to Specific Audiences

Facebook allows for highly targeted ads. According to a 2012 Nielson Study, its targeted advertising tool reaches 91% of its intended audience, compared to 27% of other online advertising.

You may pay for Facebook’s advertising based upon the number of clicks on an ad or the number of impressions your ad gets. It offers guidance on where to place an ad (in the News feed or on the right-side column) and lets you define a target audience as small as a zip code or city or as large as a state or country, and by age, gender and more.

For example, doctors trying to sell a book on men’s health can choose a national audience of men ages 30-60, while one who wants to attract more patients in their 40s who live in Scottsdale, Arizona can drill down to this level. You can also decide on the days and times your ad appears.

Advertising data are provided and break down demographics of people who clicked on an ad for your page and how they interacted with it, when they visited, and for how long.

Another Way to Communicate With Patients

Posting general medical or health information on your Facebook page is a great way to reach out to current patients, potential patients, and people interested in what you have to say. The more who people who Like you, the more your page becomes visible to their network.

Let’s say you want to tell people about how the American Heart Association botched its new guidelines for statin treatments. Post an article about it with a comment summarizing your opinion. Something like “Don’t panic—they took it all back” can help soothe people who just learned (erroneously) they should have been taking Lipitor since middle school.

Never use your business page for personal communications. Follow HIPAA guidelines for any individual patient communication and for the management of your Facebook presence. This might mean choosing carefully who you have managing your Facebook page. Not everyone is familiar with the HIPAA guidelines.

Keep in mind too that HIPAA guidelines might influence whether a patient Likes your page. For example, I had a doctor client who was an endocrinologist specializing in Diabetes. One of her patients was hesitant to Like her Facebook page because she didn’t want other people to know my client was her doctor because then people would know she had diabetes.

Facebook Influences Decisions

Facebook is a trusted resource for many people. Someone seeking out a recommendation for a physician, or wanting learn more about a particular one, may turn to Facebook and their Facebook friends.

While developing your online strategy, doctors would be wise to put Facebook in the mix and give it some thought. Many will benefit from a strong Facebook presence.

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Can I change my mind about docs on social media?

Can I change my mind about docs on social media? | Social Media and Healthcare |

As regular readers already know, I’ve told some embarrassingly cringe-worthy tales about how some health care professionals are using social media (here,here and here, for example).  In Doctors Behaving Badly Online, I cited studies by Washington, DC researcher Dr. Katherine Chretien and her findings of physicians’ unprofessional” posts on Twitter featuring“very naughty words, potential violations of patients’ privacy, and discriminatory statements.”

Two years ago, when the British Medical Association warned U.K. docs and med students NOT to make “informal, personal or derogatory comments” online about their patients, I became even more alarmed. Why, I wondered at the time, is it even necessary to issue this warning to intelligent, educated brainiacs with the letters MD (or rather, in the U.K., the letters MBBS) after their names?

There are still regrettable cases coming to light about Doctors Behaving Badly Online, but lately, I’ve been rethinking my former suspicion that many health care providers simply have no business wading into social media. And the reason for the rethink is this: physicians are, in essence, abdicating their role as our medical educators.

And while truly embarrassing examples abound on social media – leading me to caution doctors until recently that just because everybody else you know is on social media, doesn’t mean that YOU need to be, too – it’s also true that a growing number of docs are getting it right.

(This can’t be said, unfortunately, for Dr. Vinaya Puppala of Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, who in June took photographs of a young inebriated female patient“while she was on the hospital bed, crying and attached to an IV,” according to a lawsuit this patient has filed against Dr. P and the hospital.  The good doctor then posted photographs of this patient on Instagram and Facebook accounts, accompanied by“statements of commentary” about the patient’s condition, and then refused to delete the photographs when asked to do so by hospital security, according to the complaint).

A cautionary lesson here for all health care providers on social media: Don’t be stupid.

But just because Dr. Puppala and others are allegedly engaging in such career-damaging stupidity online, does it mean that other docs should steer clear, too?

Throw in the anti-aging gospel of wildly popular cardiologist-turned-medical hypester Dr. Oz and his truly awful TV ratings-bait like Four Libido Super-Foods That Will Save your Relationship” – and you have the recipe for a wholesale hostile rejection of sound medical knowledge around every corner.

Comments and web links supporting such rejection are being sent to me almost daily by my readers. Because I’ve covered many issues here surrounding industry influence on medical practice, some see me as their unelected voice of the anti-everything movement. Their comments are often accompanied by conspiratorial “What Your Doctors Don’t Want You To Know About ___” accusations, or hate-filled rants on physicians and modern health care, or praise for the Dr. Oz “miracle cures” now being flogged by quack fraudsters.

In short, there is far too much unadulterated trash masquerading as reliable health care information out there for experienced health care professionals to sit silently on the sidelines while viral misinformation continues to spread.

I now believe that unless more of those who actually know what they’re talking about step forward to help balance the onslaught of rampant bafflegab out there, health misinformation that goes viral will become the rule, not the regrettable exception.

As a concerned heart patient and blogger, I’ve observed a one-sided tidal wave of online health misinformation that’s being met with an underpowered, willingly un-armed response from those on the other side – the ones who are actually most likely to have a credible voice if only they were willing to use it.

And as Kathleen Hoffman, PhD summed up nicely in last month’s Health Communication, Health Literacy, & Social Science tweetchat (#hclitss), there are at leastfive good reasons for doctors to become active in social media, based on the online experience so far of radiation oncologist Dr. Matthew Katz (on Twitter as@subatomicdoc):

  • learning from patients
  • teaching patients
  • continuing medical education
  • learning about your profession
  • exchanging information with other healthcare providers

There are already a number of health care professionals who are doing this online in a big way. For example:

  • For every concerned parent who buys Jenny McCarthy‘s vaccination advice online (described as “trading in her experience for expertise”), there are Real Live Pediatricians like Wendy Sue Swanson, MD (aka the Seattle Children’s Hospital’sSeattle Mama Doc) providing solid information for parents in order to balance McCarthy’s error-filled theories. She’s active on both her blog and Twitter.
  • For every commercial health food website pushing unregulated supplements to treat and even “cure” cardiac arrhythmias like atrial fibrillation, there are Real Live Cardiologists like Kentucky electrophysiologist John Mandrola, MD who blogswisely on what works – and what doesn’t – for people diagnosed with AFib and other cardiac issues. He’s on Twitter as @DrJohnM.
  • For every shill selling questionable online medical miracles, there are Real Live Pharmacists like Vancouver’s James McCormack, PharmD, a professor at the University of British Columbia, who – along with family physician Mike Allan, MD – produces Best Science Medicine online podcasts they call “BS without the BS”. James also tweets as @medmyth, and teaches courses (“healthy skepticism when it comes to the use of new and old medications”) for docs, nurses, nurse-practitioners, pharmacists, and med students (their next one’s coming up in beautiful Vancouver, B.C. Canada on April 11/12, 2014).  Sign up here already.
  • For every new bestselling miracle diet book flogged online, there are Real Live Obesity Specialists like Dr. Yoni Freedhoff who teaches at the University of Ottawa. He also teaches us about our relationship with food and the food industry’s relationship with the food we choose. His blog Weighty Matters includes clever little online videos on topics like How to Make Your Own Homemade Nutella, and his posts on Twitter (@YoniFreedhoff) teach us gems like this one:

There are many, many more health care professionals leaving an impressive mark on social media’s role in medical education – but we need more.

If you believe that you’re just too darned busy to start blogging, Tweeting, podcasting or otherwise participating in social media like Drs. Freedhof, McCormack, Allan, Mandrola or Swanson et al, please note that this small sampling includes those who are very busy people just like you.

What all doctors do have is the ability to at the very least start separating out the wheat from the chaff by compiling a basic list of credible online health resources you could recommend.

Depending on your area of practice, this list should include both general medical Q&As as well as specific sites devoted to specific diagnoses. Start the old-fashioned way by posting this list in your office, or hand it out when patients ask you to recommend reliable resources.  According to a Pew Internet and American Life Project report, 80% of us use the internet to “prepare for or recover from” our doctor visits. And a reported two-thirds ofpatients say they want their doctors to recommend reliable website resources for them. Start making that list of your own recommendations.

Because if doctors don’t do the recommending, their patients will seek out the Jenny McCarthys out there who will.

Drs. Ben Gerber and Arnold Eiser, in their paper published in The Journal of Medical Internet Research in 2001, recommended that physicians offer an “internet prescription” to their patients:

“Patients will likely seek a second opinion on the internet. Recommend websites to the patient!

Doctors, you don’t have to write blog articles, but you should keep a running list of ones you’d recommend. You don’t have to join Twitter to create gems of original 140-character wisdom, but you could join Twitter to reTweet links to credible online articles you think your general public audience or peers would find useful. In fact, about 40% of those who are active on Twitter (meaning they log on every day) do not post – they just read what others are Tweeting. So begin there.

While I’m primarly addressing physicians here, I would also love to see more nurses, nurse-practitioners, pharmacists and other health care professionals share their specific expertise and knowledge using social media as their vehicle for health care education.

I propose that one way to regain some balance here is to start small by launching a minimal social media presence, and then grow your online participation as you get more comfortable. If you still need convincing, Pat Rich (@cmaer) of the Canadian Medical Association recommends that you spend five minutes watching this video from Ali Jalali, MD (@ARJalali) of the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Medicine, who reminds his medical colleagues of a crucially important fact:

Your patients, your students and your residents are already on social media, and they may not be safe on it.

“It’s part of your social accountability to be there to help them.”

And please docs, since we’re talking about enhancing credibility here – use your own name on social media.

If you’re thinking about launching a blog, remember that writing skills do matter. So does grammar, punctuation, and a neat turn of phrase. Read some of the blog essays of writer/oncologists Dr. James Salwitz or Dr. Elaine Schattner to see how it’s done well.

As I’ve mercilessly warned on this site, you do NOT get a free pass to ignore the basic difference between what’s appropriate in privately griping to your pals around the water cooler and what’s not appropriate in posting the same sentiment online for all the world to see. Common sense and common courtesy go a long way here, folks.

And remember Dr. Farris Timimi‘s brilliant 12-word rule of health care social media:

“Don’t Lie. Don’t Pry. Don’t Cheat. Can’t Delete. Don’t Steal. Don’t Reveal.”

Dr. Timimi (@FarrisTimimi) is the medical director for the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media. He likes to refer to social media participation as a “conversation” for which doctors should know the risks and behave accordingly, but not be so risk-averse that they do not participate.

Rather than abdicate the role of health care educator, docs who are struggling with the whole idea of social media might do well to embrace this participation. Start by browsing what’s out there to help discover your own niche.

Check out those health care providers whose work you respect – see what they’re up to online.  Learn the tools. Do some homework. Get some basic social media tips here. Or seek out health care institutions that already have solid social media strategies in place, like Mayo Clinic’s Social Media Health Network (whose next One-Day Social Media Residency course is taking place on January 20th at their Arizona campus).

As Dr. Timimi adds:

“The biggest risk in health care social media is not participating in the conversation.”

Labbit srl's curator insight, January 21, 2014 5:22 AM

“The biggest risk in health care social media is not participating in the conversation.” 

pharma's curator insight, July 4, 8:01 PM
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Social Media in Healthcare

Social Media in Healthcare | Social Media and Healthcare |
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Can the Internet and Social Media Help the Development of Healthcare?

Can the Internet and Social Media Help the Development of Healthcare? | Social Media and Healthcare |

In a world frantically scrambling to adapt to the changing digital landscape, how has healthcare fared? Has the Internet and social media helped or hindered its development? Should the public turn to the Internet for medical advice? I enlisted the help of some leading voices in the field to unravel these questions and shed some much needed light on the topic.

Information technologies have already prompted a massive shift in the way medical information is accessed, with its capacity to transfer important knowledge from health professionals to the wider public. Social media, in particular, is a perfect vehicle for this.

As the tentacles of social media permeate into everyday life, doctors and healthcare organisations alike can leverage this power to circulate valuable information about health problems as well as self-care and prevention techniques.

As Lee Aase, Director at Mayo Clinic Social Media, confirms:

“By engaging in public, knowledgeable professionals can offer help and insights on a scale that was previously impossible. And by bringing their science-based perspective they can hopefully counter some of the bad information that has been so harmful to public health”

“The Journal of Internet Medical Research have suggested that 60% of adults used the internet to find health information”

It’s exactly this ‘bad information’ that makes searching online for medical advice fraught with dangers. For the more Internet savvy, this may not pose a problem, but, for the less educated, and the elderly, finding credible information on the web may be a troublesome task.

The reality is that anyone can publish on the internet, regardless of quality, which means that you could be confronted with information that is conflicting, confusing, or quite simply wrong.

From a runny nose to something more serious like a suspicious lump, people are heading to the web more and more; but, with more than 70,000 websites disseminating medical information, where should you visit?

According to Dr. Sarah Jarvis, clinical consultant at, your doctor can advise you on trusted sites to visit. Here in the UK, sites which have been awarded The Information Standard by the NHS, are particularly useful as medical resources:

" is fully accredited, and all the articles on the site are written by GPs, for GPs and their patients. They also provide full references to back up their content. Of the 11 million people who access the information onsite every month, almost a million are GPs and practice nurses – a ringing endorsement of the quality of the information."

However, can even the most reputable sites compare to the value of a face-to-face appointment with your GP? Dr. Leana Wen, physician and author of When Doctor’s Don’t Listen believes that the Internet should only be used to accompany a visit to the doctors:

"Don't use the Internet to make your diagnosis, but rather use it to formulate better questions to ask your doctor. Internet search engines can't replace seeing your doctor, because symptoms alone don't make your diagnosis--your history and physical exam do."

This is true; the benefits of a physical diagnosis cannot be completely replaced by a search online. However, the Internet and social media have other abilities that can improve healthcare, namely it’s capacity to bring patients with similar diseases together. Through Twitter chats and Facebook groups, like-minded patients can connect with one another for mutual support and knowledge sharing. Introducing trained medical professionals into these conversations will undoubtedly make these discussions more helpful.

“Doctors should always exercise caution when using Twitter as it can often lead to a conflict of interest, but as long as it’s used in responsible manner, Twitter can be the perfect platform to educate the public on a wide range of health issues.”Healthexpress Chief medical Advisor, Dr. Hilary Jones

Facebook is particularly good at grouping patients together.

In one simple click, you can become an active member of a community alongside others with similar interests.

These groups supply valuable opportunities to talk to one another while offering important information on breakthrough studies, news and advice for a specific condition, all of which will feature on a daily newsfeed.

A perfect example of a successful social media campaign can be observed with, a community website which has successfully built a global network to help people with diabetes worldwide. As well as promoting awareness for Diabetes, their social media platforms unite people with similar worries so they can share their stories and seek support.

In fact, the benefits of an extended support network on a persons health has been confirmed by several studies. Researchers from California carried out a large-scale study in 1979, which concluded that people with relatively low levels of social interaction died earlier than those with strong social networks.

By using social media, people are more likely to partake in social interaction and support. The possibilities have moved beyond the restraints of face-to-face contacts to an unlimited pool of people with shared interests and concerns.

As Medical Expert for NBC and regular on air guest for Fox News, Dr. Kevin Campbell testifies,

"Support groups are extremely valuable for patients--social media allows for patients from geographically diverse regions to interact in real time without even leaving their own homes."

“Social media connects. Social Media informs both patients and doctors. It enhances knowledge. It facilities communication. In healthcare, is there anything more powerful than knowledge and human connection?”Dr.John Mandrola, cardiologist

As well as improving doctor/patient relationships, Dr. Campbell believes that social media can develop relationships within doctors’ circles themselves. Doctors can now consult each other from anywhere in the world, meaning that ideas can be more easily disseminated, thus improving research and patient care.

However, many healthcare institutions are worried that the use of social media by their doctors may compromise patient privacy while threatening a doctor’s professional reputations. This has lead to many organisations devising their own guidelines for their doctors. Dr. John Mandrola, a cardiac electro physiologist and regular Twitter user, has created his own ‘Rules for Doctors on Social Media.’

There may be some risks to consider when integrating social media into a healthcare model, but the overwhelming power of social media as a tool to educate and distribute medical information cannot be ignored. If social media is to revolutionize healthcare and improve public health on a global level, health professionals must be actively involved in the process to guarantee that the information is completely reliable. With a community of doctors and specialists already discussing ethical problems and how to overcome these obstacles, the future of social media in healthcare is in good hands.

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Follow us: @healthexpress on Twitter

Nevermore Sithole's curator insight, January 23, 2014 3:09 AM

Internet ,Social Media and  the Development of Healthcare

Blanca Usoz's curator insight, January 23, 2014 4:13 AM

Redes sociales que conectan en salud

Anthony Carnesecca's curator insight, January 24, 2014 2:40 AM

This article brings up an interesting point about whether vital areas of our lives, such as medicine and health, should fully utilize social media platforms to advocate and push for consumers to act in certain ways.

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Social Media Primer for Emergency Medicine

Social Media Primer for Emergency Medicine | Social Media and Healthcare |

There has been a surge of interest in Social Media and how it might be used in Emergency Medicine and EM Education here at the University of British Columbia.  Dr. Kendall Ho, an EM Physician and Head of the UBC eHealth Strategy Office (FacebookTwitter)is kicking off a big push to explore SoMe with a few events:

With the growing interest in SoMe in EM and Medical Education, I think a short primer on the space is warranted.

This is a list, with some commentary, of (I think) excellent KT and MedEd resources in the Social Media space  so that people can explore. This is NOT by any stretch a comprehensive list, but is meant as a Primer for the upcoming discussion for those unfamiliar with the myriad faces of SoMe.

Social Media, in my opinion, is primarily a  Knowledge Translation tool rather than a primary source of medical information. It is a vast and useful filter for the ‘firehose of information’ that spews from the mainstream medical literature.

Free Open Access Medical Education (FOAM)
FOAM is a movement, based in Social Media, that has blossomed in the last few years. FOAM was coined/created by Australian EM physician Mike Cadogan, creator of Life in the Fastlane one of the pre-eminent EM blogs in the world.
FOAM should not be seen as a teaching philosophy or strategy, but rather as a globally accessible crowd-sourced educational adjunct providing inline (contextual) and offline (asynchronous) content to augment traditional educational principles.
FOAMEM - a dynamically updated list of the latest blogposts and podcasts
FOAMSearch – a Google Custom Search Engine for FOAM Content (Disclaimer: I am the creator of FOAMSearch)
Blogs are the mainstay of SoMe. They allow long form text, images, audio, and video. Almost all allow comments and replies to posts that, in the best cases, allow for interaction between the authors and other members of the community [hence 'Social' media]. Below is a list of just some of the best blogs out there:
Life in the Fastlane - the grand daddy of EMCC (Emergency Medicine and Critical Care) sites
Academic Life in EM - the heir apparent
EM Lit of Note - succinct interpretations of current literature
EM Nerd - new but fantastically detailed Lit examinations
EMUpdates - less frequent posts, but high quality
Don’t Forget the Bubbles  – new PEM (Pediatric EM) blog
Dr Smith’s ECG Blog - from the master, Stephen Smith
The Blunt Dissection - great case-based blog
EMCrit - EM Intensivist Scot Weingart’s blog to ‘bring upstairs care, downstairs’
EMTutorials - Presentations with supplementary material
EM:RAP - Not Free, but likely the pre-eminent source of online CPD in EM.
Resus.ME - another great mix of EM and Critical Care
St Emlyn’s - a great group blog from the Manchester EM group
The Short Coat - one example of what a motivated learner (Lauren began the blog as a Med Student and is now an R1 in EM) can do
The SGEM (Skeptic’s Guide to EM) - Canadian video podcast from the BEEM group’sKen Milne (more about Ken here, and here)
THE LIST - from LitFLthis is the most comprehensive list of active EMCC blogs
Podcasts are primarily audio, but increasingly video based, resources. Some are published on a regular schedule, others only as the creators have topics or information to share. Many, but not all, offer blog posts with related or supplementary material.
EMCrit from EM Intensivist Scot Weingart (iTunes Link)
ERCast EM in the trenches from Rob Orman (iTunes Link)
SMART EM David H Newman is one of the smartest guys in EM, and in Medicine as a whole (iTunes Link Here)
THE LIST - LitFL this is the most comprehensive list of active EMCC podcasts
Knowledge Translation tools
These online resources are not typical blogs, but are very useful, and often are very EBM =
MD Calc - created and run by some of the NNT team.
Journal Clubs are a subset of the KT-tool-but-not-a-blog category
Twitter is, currently, the forum for most of the day-to-day discussion and interaction in the EM SoMe space. If you want to keep abreast of all the goings on, then you need to be on Twitter. Lurking (following and consuming the content without interacting) is a very valid and perfectly acceptable way to use Twitter. Many, but not all, may transition from lurking to actively engaging. The only UNacceptable use of Twitter (and SoMe in general) isTrolling, so feel free to take a peek inside.
FOAMStarter - New to Twitter? Follow the folks listed here as a starting point.
FOAMHighlights - an account that retweets good FOAM content.
High Impact - My personal list of high impact EM Twitterfolk. Includes the clinical best as well as a smattering of the lighter side of EM on Twitter
MedEd - My growing list of MedEd Twitter accounts, leaning heavily but not exclusively on EM Educators
Facebook etc
Facebook is a bit of a hydra – many folks (myself included) keep their personal FB pages strictly personal, minimizing it’s use in the professional realm. For many however FB is THE central focus of many people’s Social Media interaction, including medical professionals. These folks are often unaware of the other SoMe channels, so new SoMe initiatives having a FB presence that points to resources outside FB  can be very useful for building an engaged audience.  I will list a couple FB pages of sites listed above:
Wikipedia & the WikiProject Medicine
Wikipedia is one of the first, and most successful, crowd-sourced repositories on the web. The reliability of the information on Wikipedia has been questioned by many! but none can question the popularity of the site. As often as not, Wikipedia is the first result in any Google (or other search engine) search. There are thousands of medical articles on Wikipedia, but only a handful of physicians and other health care professionals who try to ensure their accuracy. The WikiProject Medicine is an official Wikimedia project attempting to guide and correct medical info on the site. This is also a new frontier for Medical Education, with UCSF’s recently created elective that has students collaborate on the project. UBC Dept of Emergency Medicine’s Dr James Heilman is centrally involved in the Project, and those interested in this facet of SoMe should contact him.
Google+ and Google Hangouts
Google+ is one of the newest SoMe platforms, and integrates with the whole Google-verse. Why do you need yet another place to put your face, and probably waste time? Well, it has some unique features that make it particularly attractive to the EMCC and MedEd communities. It allows long form articles, unlike Twitter, allows you to share your own and others’ blog posts and other things, and has a robust Community builder.  Check out the new, but already highly interactive discussions on the FOAMcc (FOAM Critical Care) Community.
Google+ also introduced a new tool, Google Hangouts. Hangouts are a kind of video conferencing tool – it allows up to 10 people to join in a group video/audio chat. Participants can be added and removed on the fly. This alone would be useful for small group sessions or for connecting different sites, but there is a rather brilliant addition. Any Google Hangout can be broadcast *LIVE* to YouTube. If you choose, anyone can watch/follow your Hangout session, enabling you to reach a much larger audience. Add in Twitter as a realtime feedback/question channel, and you have a ready made, open, online conferencing tool.
Just one more thing… People have already begun to extend these tools, and Nestivityseems like an exciting resource. Rob Rogers (of Univ of Maryland Emergency Medicine, andThe Teaching Course) has set up a MedEd focussed Nestivity site, and Academic Life in EM used it recently for their Book Club discussion
This is far from an exhaustive look at SoMe in Emergency Medicine and Medical Education. This should be a jumping off point for any exploration. If you have questions or comments, leave them on this post, or chat with me over at Twitter.
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LinkedIn for Healthcare Marketing

LinkedIn for Healthcare Marketing | Social Media and Healthcare |

LinkedIn is particularly distinctive among the biggest social media (SM) formats. You might say that it’s the one wearing a business suit and a power tie.

Ranking third most popular social media (so says eBizMBA), LinkedIn enjoys about 200-million unique monthly visitors. But size alone isn’t the main point of differentiation. The analogy we offered in a previous post puts it this way: Twitter is a fast little sports car. Facebook is like a SUV/station wagon for family and friends.

But LinkedIn is an unassuming luxury sedan…comfortable, reliable and impressive. It’s the social media town car of physician marketing. Among the SM “biggies,” LinkedIn tends to represent a gathering spot for executives, professionals and, in the healthcare arena, it’s well suited for doctors, hospital and practice administrators and communications executives.

Mission Statement

“The mission of LinkedIn is to connect the world’s professionals to enable them to be more productive and successful. To achieve our mission, we make services available through our website, mobile applications, and developer platform, to help you, your connections, and millions of other professionals meet, exchange ideas, learn, make deals, find opportunities or employees, work, and make decisions in a network of trusted relationships and groups. [LinkedIn User Agreement]

LinkedIn Pages and Groups

Individual: Launched in 2003, LinkedIn is expressly for people in professional occupations and functions as an online networking environment. Registered users posted resume-like individual descriptions based on their personal education, work history and business competencies.

Company: LinkedIn also provides for “Company Page” profiles suitable for information about a business, brand, products and services. (LinkedIn’s requirements for adding a Company Page are here.)

Showcase: More recently, LinkedIn now facilitates secondary “Showcase Pages” that spotlight, in their Help Center description, “allow you to extend your Company Page presence by creating a dedicated page for those aspects of your business. It makes sense to create a Showcase Page when you want to establish a dedicated page to represent a brand, business unit, or company initiative.”

Groups: Professionals in the same industry or with similar interests can share content, find answers, post and view jobs, make business contacts, and establish themselves as industry experts. [Help Center: Create a Group]

To illustrate, Healthcare Success created and maintains active discussions among members of the following seven LinkedIn Groups:

  • Healthcare Success Strategies Medical Marketing Group
  • Hospital Marketing and Advertising
  • Physician Liaisons, Physicians Relations & Practice Representatives
  • Dental Practice Management
  • Medical Practice Management
  • Reproductive Medicine Marketing – IVF ART Infertility
  • Patient Experience

LinkedIn User/Member Demographics and Statistics

Each of the various social media platforms provides a unique means to engage, involve and inform a specific target audience. Quantcast—the digital audience measurement company—says: “LinkedIn connects marketers to over 50 million affluent, ambitious and influential professionals. Built upon trusted connections and relationships, LinkedIn has established the world’s largest and most powerful community of professionals…” User demographics in the United States:

Gender: Male

    • Male (64%)
    • Female (36%)

Age: Middle Aged

    • 18-24 (8%)
    • 25-34 (16%)
    • 35-44 (23%)
    • 45-54 (21%)
    • 55-64 (11%)           

 Household Income: More Affluent

    • $0-50k (33%)
    • $50-100k (34%)
    • $100-150k (18%)
    • $150k+ (15%)

    Education: Graduate and Post Graduates

    • No College (25%)
    • College (48%)
    • Grad School (27%)

LinkedIn for Healthcare Professionals

With a concentrated emphasis on professionals and executives, LinkedIn has a valuable role in social media marketing, particularly for establishing the credentials and extending the reputation of doctors, administrators and healthcare executives…as well as their facilities and brands.

By differentiating itself in this significant way, LinkedIn’s role in social media marketing has a different character than other SM platforms, and it tends to speak with an authoritative voice to a more up-scale and business savvy audience. This audience includes patients, prospective patients and healthcare industry peers and colleagues.

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Social Media for Doctors: How Should Doctors Use Social Media?

Social Media for Doctors: How Should Doctors Use Social Media? | Social Media and Healthcare |

Most businesses that have any sort of presence on the internet are coming to realize that social media can be a powerful tool in marketing and promoting their products and services.  But is it right for healthcare providers to follow suit?  If you do a little searching, you’ll find many doctors, dentists, hospitals, and nursing homes active on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google +.  Marketing experts agree that the time is right for medical professionals to test the waters, but there are some guidelines healthcare providers will need to know before jumping in with both feet.

Why bother with social media in the first place?  There are several reasons.  The days of setting up a website and waiting for clients to find you on the internet are gone (if they ever existed).

 Social Media Benefits for a Medical Practice:

  • Engage your patients
  • Build trust
  • Become a resource
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Social media helps you reach out, connect and engage with people.  Patients want to see that there are real people in your office who really care and are there to help.  You can also build more trust and loyalty with clients by communicating with them and giving them updated information and engaging them in conversation.  Your office can also become a resource on healthcare and related topics that patients will genuinely appreciate.  And finally, SEO: As you implement social media use you are helping your practice’s ranking on Google and other search engines, which makes it much easier for a new patient to find you in an internet search.  Since most people Google everything they’re looking for, including a new physician, you want to be at the top of the list!

The benefits of using social media to share information and maintain better relationships with patients are easy to see, but healthcare providers must play by different rules than, say, a hardware store or a coffee shop.  The first thing you must do is to put a social media policy into place for your office and make everyone in the practice aware of the guidelines.

Social Media Guidelines are Important to:

  • Protect the privacy of patients
  • Keep a professional reputation
  • Avoid questions regarding medical advice

Protecting your patients’ privacy should be the first priority when using social media.  Never post a picture or anything about a patient without their written permission.  Even with written permission, you need to evaluate if it is the right thing for your practice.  For example, an orthodontist makes it a practice to take a before, during and after picture of all her patients receiving braces.  With the patient’s written permission (or the parents’ in the case of minors) she posts the photos on the practice’s Facebook page showing the progress along the way and the final finished product: A beautiful smile!  She does not use names.  This is a great way to showcase her expertise and the number of patients she is working with.  And it’s effective.  Patients and parents are going to the Facebook page to look for the pictures and then they’re interacting with the orthodontist and her staff.  But that same strategy might not be such a great idea for other specialties where the treatment is more sensitive and should be kept private.  Numerous physicians have had HIPAA complaints filed against them just for describing a patient’s treatment, without the use of a name, on social media. 

Physicians and all employees need to know that there are boundaries that can’t be crossed with their own personal social media sites as well.  Your reputation as a professional could be ruined by posting the wrong kind of personal information on social media.  Specifically spell out the boundaries so there is no question about what can and can’t be shared online.  There are many resources online that can help you write a social media policy.  For example, the AMA report, “Professionalism in the Use of Social Media,” can be very helpful.  You should also be familiar with the HIPAA and HITECH rulesregarding protection of patient health information.

Of course you don’t want any of your social media pages to become a place where patients or the public are asking for medical advice.  This could have dangerous implications for medical malpractice claims as well as HIPAA violations.  Medical malpractice and professional liability insurance policies will not cover this type claim.  So you’ll want to make it clear that this is not the place for specific medical questions.  If you get questions coming in through social media, the best way to handle them is to direct the patient to call the office to make an appointment or call 911 if there is an emergency.  It may sound obvious, even ridiculous, but you’d be surprised at the number of people looking for free medical advice on the internet – some of them don’t have the best intentions.  There are other ways to privately communicate with patients about specific private health information and advice.  Telemedicine is a growing field where physicians communicate through encrypted email, secure texting and other forms of electronic technology including two-way video.  Many medical malpractice insurance policies will cover telemedicine when requested because it is private and secure communication.

In a world where nearly everyone is using the internet and social media in everyday life, healthcare providers need to become comfortable using it to help their practices stay connected and relevant.  So don’t be afraid to get involved.  Start by putting a social media policy in place, educate your staff, and begin enjoying the potential of social media to promote your practice.

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Can social media help measure physician quality?

Can social media help measure physician quality? | Social Media and Healthcare |

I am consistently bemused by those who recommend more rigorous or more pervasive standardized testing as the primary means for insuring physician quality. The vast majority of physicians have already passed through a complex gauntlet of multiple choice exams, extended credentialing and certification processes, and lengthy tests of knowledge and skill. And yet, some physicians (to put it bluntly, sorry friends) are very bad at what they do.

Intellectual intelligence is necessary, but not sufficient, for doctoring. It is emotional intelligence (EI) that is sorely lacking — because it has neither been cultivated, nor selected for, by many training programs. Some educators openly acknowledge the problem, pointing to “extra-curricular activities” as their primary means of distinguishing equally qualified applicants. The disappointing reality is that non-academic performance may be a tie-breaker for students with similar standardized test scores, but raw scores almost always trump any other factor. In the end, we have a physician work force that is highly adept at assimilating and regurgitating facts, but is only accidentally good at human interactions.

Is there hope for change in this arena? I believe that the prognosis is guarded. As our culture becomes more and more digital data-driven, a tsunami of “meaningless use” threatens to drown us all in false quality measures, electronic medical record documentation “quality assurance” requirements, and analysis of trends without comprehension of context or influencing variables outside the scope of the measuring instruments. Lies, damn lies, and statistics. We can’t get enough! And guess who are the biggest proponents of these methods? Why, people who only excel at standardized testing — mostly because their true flaws also lie outside the measuring instruments. Bad doctors (sometimes turned-administrators) themselves are often fueling the onslaught of fruitless quality improvement initiatives.

Dr. Howard Luks, orthopedic surgeon and social media activist, wrote a provocative blog post on the subject of why physicians don’t engage more in social media. He suggests that many avoid it because they lack people-skills in the first place and don’t genuinely enjoy engaging with patients. If you’re a “jerk” in real life, he argues, then what advantage is there to making that more obvious on blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc.? Better to stay socially quiet.

The interesting thing is that social media might be the most reliable way to discover whether or not your doctor is kind, thoughtful, observant, and detail-oriented. Reading a physician’s thoughts online can help you get to know their true personality and work ethic. In the future it would be nice if medical schools and residency training programs took the time to read applicants’ blogs (for example) instead of crunching their test scores for admission via the path of least resistance. An extra hour of reading up front could save our medical system from a new wave of low EI providers.

As Seth Godin put it, “Uncaring hands are worth avoiding.”

We all recognize the importance of this statement intuitively, but have a hard time quantifying “caring” with standardized tests. That’s why admissions officers and patients alike must use their judgment when selecting doctors. We pay verbal homage to the importance of “clinical judgment” in medicine but in reality are culturally afraid of straying from numbers to support our decision-making.

How will you know a good doctor? You’ll know him [or her obviously] when you see him. And sometimes you can see him best on social media platforms.


A few caveats of course:

1. Social media is a sensitive but not specific test. Meaning, you can probably accurately identify caring doctors from their blogs, etc. but if they don’t have one, it doesn’t mean they aren’t good/caring.

2. It may not matter if you find a great doctor online if they’re not in your limited ACA network.

3. Direct primary care is a potentially excellent way to get connected to exceptional doctors. I am a fan of this movement and have been actively involved in a practice in VA. The practices can reduce costs and enhance quality care, though recent caps on health savings accounts have reduced consumer freedom to spend pre-tax income on direct primary care.

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Mining social media for insights into patient behaviors (MS)

Mining social media for insights into patient behaviors (MS) | Social Media and Healthcare |

While the FDA ponders the use of social media for DTC marketing marketers can still use this channel to provide patient insights into specific disease states, medications and treatment options.  I had a chance to take a deep dive into social media for MS patients and uncovered specific needs and segments of patients.

I spent the better part of a month mining social media, Twitter, Facebook, patient communities, for a client interested in covering MS patients needs,  Here is some of what I found..

Specific MS Segments

Newly Diagnosed – These patients wanted two things via social media.  The first was answers about why and how.  The second was information about how to live with MS.  They were often looking for mentors and usually went back and forth sharing information.

Patients with MS - These were patients that have been diagnosed with MS for awhile.  Their communication was around encouragement an experiences around specific medications with an emphasis on the medication side effects vs. quality of life.   I was also surprised that this segment was very aware of new medications in development and followed their progress very closely.  In addition, these people openly shared information about dosing of current medications.  Their need is medication side effects vs. not doing anything at all.

Caregivers – This segment had specific needs to better understand MS and what MS patients are going through.  More importantly, they are looking for support for themselves.  They want to vent and seek ways to make life better for their loved ones.

I also identified several influencers within the social media MS category.  These were patients who spent a lot of time helping others and sharing information and encouragement.  One thing became apparent; there is a real need for one MS patient resource that combines social media, patient communities and access to medical professionals to answer questions.

Among the companies highly regarded in the MS patient community was Biogen and Novartis.


So what can a DTC marketer do with this information ?  They can use it to provide better targeted content.  For example, how about sponsoring a patient’s BLOG as they started treatment ?  Sure, there are risks, but that conversation is happening anyway via the Web.

Then there is the possibility of sponsoring a chat with a thought leader to answer questions about MS and how best to live with this horrible health condition.

Social media allows up to listen to patients, but unless we are ready to use this information to provide help and answers patients will have to turn more and more to each other instead of tobiopharma companies which are a wealth of information.

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Social Media Recruitment for Healthcare Employers

Social Media Recruitment for Healthcare Employers | Social Media and Healthcare |

Are you struggling to find high quality candidates for your healthcare organisation? In an increasingly competitive marketplace, finding and attracting the best job candidates can be a challenge, even for the most well established businesses. Social media is one way that tech-savvy businesses can get ahead of the competition when it comes to successful recruitment. Social media recruitment is becoming increasingly popular across all industries. Here is how you can take advantage of this trend, and give your recruitment process a boost using the power of social media.

What are the benefits of using social media for recruitment?

Social media has a number of benefits for businesses and organisations when it comes to recruitment. Social media is low cost, and through social sharing and referrals can give your business exposure to a wide audience. It reaches people who may not be actively searching for a new job, as well as proactive job seekers.

Pre-screening and contacting potential candidates is made more straightforward with social media. You can check over potential candidates’ profiles and screen out anyone who looks unsuitable or like they wouldn’t be a good fit for your organisation. With social media you can get more of an idea of the personality of your potential candidates, which can be invaluable in a people-based industry where strong interpersonal skills are highly desirable.

How do I use social media to find the best candidates?

To use social media effectively it is a good idea to have a strong brand presence. This can help you attract interest from prospective candidates even when you aren’t currently looking, and give you a base of people to draw from when you are actively recruiting. Make sure you choose the best platform for your target candidates. LinkedIn is the main social media platform that recruiters use, but there may be industry specific blogs or sites that could also yield good results.

You can advertise directly on social media, but many organisations post a few lines describing what they are looking for and a link to the careers page of their site or the job description itself. Make sure the application process is clear and straightforward and that you keep in touch with prospective candidates throughout the process to ensure they remain engaged.

Although it is still important to conduct face-to-face interviews, much of the preliminary recruiting process can be done through social media, and this can help simplify and speed the process up for candidates and recruiters. If you haven’t used social media for recruitment it may be well worth considering.

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Healthcare Success with Social Media

Healthcare Success with Social Media | Social Media and Healthcare |

The idea of combining healthcare and social media may seem like an odd pairing, but the benefits are immeasurable and healthcare success with social media is possible.  Social media marketing allows you to engage with your healthcare audience online while giving you the power to become a trusted expert.  It allows you to show your human side—making patients more comfortable and feel like they have a deeper connection with their physicians or healthcare providers.  Over half of the American population seeks healthcare information online, so why not utilize social media to interact with your patients?  Facebook alone has over 1.1 billion monthly users. You can’t expect to reach these audiences by simply posting something on Facebook and walking away—you need to cultivate conversations and have a strong presence on your various platforms online.

Here are six reasons to build a robust online engagement program to help build your practice’s brand:

  • - Increase your online visibility for prospective patients
  • - Establish patient (and prospective patient) connections
  • - Engage a targeted audience and grow relationships
  • - Speak to individuals with common healthcare interests and issues
  • - Show the personalized “people side” of healthcare providers and staff
  • - Showcase community activities, doctors, services and professional achievements

Developing and monitoring social media profiles is one of the most valuable aspects of your healthcare marketing strategy.  Below are some suggested platforms to help step up your social media game:


Facebook can help healthcare practices share important information, engage patients in conversations, attract followers, and increase community loyalty. You can customize information, brand your business and feature a lot of valuable information for patients.  For example, your page can utilize a “Location” app to pull up a map of all of your facilities in the area and provide directions to patients.  When it comes to purchase decisions, many consumers are using Facebook to ask for recommendations from friends and family, before they step foot inside your facility – and then give feedback as soon as they leave. Utilize Facebook to drive traffic to your blog, target specific demographics through advertising, encourage consumers to participate in contests and much more.


LinkedIn is a powerful tool to market your business to prospective patients and other business professionals, establish and grow your reputation, and build overall brand awareness.  By setting up acompany page for your practice, you can begin connecting with potential partners and other healthcare providers allowing you to start discussions and establish yourself as an expert in your industry.  Joining groups on LinkedIn that spark your interest and are relevant to your professional goals allow healthcare providers to connect and share ideas regarding professional, clinical and personal issues.  It is also a great place to reach large professional audiences with advertisements and sponsored updates, allowing for easy tracking through a user-friendly analytics dashboard. LinkedIn is an effective means for reaching and building relationships with the right professionals in specific industries and roles.


Twitter is a great spot to advertise, connect with patients and physicians, and improve the public image of a healthcare organization. Besides utilizing the robust search features for conversations your business can get involved with and filling up those 140 character tweets with valuable information, Twitter is a great tool for live chats – allowing people to participate in conversations and interact with staff members in real time.  Participating in a charitable or community event? Add a hashtag (#)! Adding a unique hashtag to a specific event or conversation will help keep the conversation organized, searchable and follow-able.


Healthcare organizations can use this platform to promote their image or identity. It is easy to forget about the human element in healthcare-use Pinterest to show patients the human side of your practice. You can create online pin boards with categories that speak to what your company stands for and is interested in—from fitness activities, relaxation tips and recipes, the possibilities are endless.   If you have a blog, Pinterest is a great way to drives traffic back to your website-each pin includes a link back to the image’s original source. So include images in your blog posts! Need tips on how to connect with patients on Pinterest? Check these out!


Online video is powerful but underutilized.  YouTube can attract new patients, retain business, and boost search engine ranking by posting videos with testimonials, hospital information, or provider profiles.  Using videos to help give advice, tell compelling stories, and focus on interesting content that has value to the user, YouTube is a highly effective communication tool to engage your healthcare audience and a great way to put a face and personality to what may have been perceived in the past as the disconnected and distant healthcare provider.

Patients want to hear from you and stay connected.  When you consistently engage with your patients through social media, you instantly build a rapport with them and will become the first name that comes to mind whenever anyone thinks of a health care issue.  If you decide to become involved with social media, be careful to include any medical disclaimers where necessary and ensure you are followingHIPAA guidelines.

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Why Clinical Trials Need Mobile Health Tools: Can CROs be Replaced?

Why Clinical Trials Need Mobile Health Tools: Can CROs be Replaced? | Social Media and Healthcare |

I have previously written why mobile technologies need clinical trials.  I would now like to discuss why clinical trials need mobile technology.

For readers not familiar with clinical research, a CRO (clinical  research organization)  is “…an organization that provides support to the pharmaceutical and biotechnology  industries in the form of research services outsourced on a contract basis. A CRO may provide such services as biopharmaceutical development, biologic assay development, commercialization, preclinical researchclinical research, clinical trials management, and pharmacovigilance. (Wiki)”    CROs as we know them today started in the late 1970s and early 1980s and have grown as a part of Pharma R&D budgets from 4% in the 1990s to close to 50% in the mid 2000s.  In a previous post on why Pharma needs mobile apps, I briefly mention their potential role in clinical trials.  I would like to discuss this in more detail now.  The cost of performing clinical trials is increasing significantly. Technology including mobile technology and analytics can decrease these costs, but the challenge is for both business models and the research processes to adapt around them. This presupposes that the technologies can perform trials well.

In an excellent paper Transforming the Economics of Clinical Trials, the authors discuss the introduction of technology in clinical trials: “Over the last decade, electronic data capture (EDC) has made some progress in transforming this [business] model. In an EDC-enabled environment, paper forms are replaced by electronic forms, whereby sites enter their data into an electronic database. This technology has produced some efficiency gains as edit-checks reduce the cost of the manual data-query process. However, the EDC platform was largely embedded in the traditional clinical research business model, with legacy concepts around site monitoring and validation. New opportunities for central statistical monitoring of data in these systems were not widely embraced)…Patient screening and recruitment costs remained largely unchanged.”  They then suggest the mining of EHRs for data for the screening and recruitment of patient research subjects, and mobile technologies for direct data collection. What is also keenly pointed out is the current absence for a technology-based business model. The report goes on to discuss monitoring of trial sites. Both the European Medicines Agency and the FDA have endorsed centralized monitoring of trials via technology on a real-time basis.

One company providing mobile tools for clinical trials is exco intouch InVentiv Health is a CRO which has recently become active in the mobile side of clinical trials. InVentiv bought a stake in Mytrus, a company that has mobile technology which facilitates obtaining informed consent for clinical trials.

Recruitment of patients is another aspect of digital technology in clinical trials. Pfizer used social media to recruit patients for a clinical trial of Detrol  One company hosting 200,000 patients in online communities which gather data on 150,000 disease states,PatientsLikeMe  has signed agreements with pharmaceutical companies to match patients with trials using its clinical trial search tool.

Other advantages of mobile clinical trials, as I see them, include less biased recruitment via crowdsourcing, a dramatic reduction in costs, better medication tracking via pill sensor technology (Proteus Digital Health), and faster reporting of adverse events (which can potentially save lives and stop negative studies earlier via transmission to the Data Safety Monitoring Board),  and more timely analytics and trial reporting. In addition, they might lend themselves to more comprehensive or efficient audits, and will strengthen the assistance of caregivers (who can receive and transmit data with/for the patient) in the trial. 

     While I do not believe that mobile technology will replace CROs, I do believe that it will significantly reduce costs and improve procedural inefficiencies and accuracy. The digitalization of clinical trial data represented a significant step in improving process and quality of trials. Making it mobile will take it to an even more higher level.

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Why Doctors Don’t Google Their Patients

Why Doctors Don’t Google Their Patients | Social Media and Healthcare |

I read in the New York Times that the vast majority of doctors Google their patients.  I found this implausible.  I consider myself a digitally sophisticated physician.  Perhaps that’s why I’ve never Googled a patient.  The story, When Doctors ‘Google’ Their Patients by Haider Warraich, is worth a critical peek.

Here’s why the vast majority of doctors don’t Google their patients:

Working physicians don’t have time.  The demands of modern medicine don’t allow physicians the luxury of footprint searches on patients.   And I would submit that most physician trainees don’t have the time of day to monkey around with patient background checks.  I train pediatricians at Texas Children’s Hospital, the largest children’s hospital in the United States and our residents don’t have the opportunity to sit let alone snoop.

Google is a dung heap of misinformation. Understanding what’s real is very difficult.  Because…

Google is a place where you can be who you want to be.  Digitally literate physicians understand that you have to take what you see on Google at interface value.  Feeding and shaping the content stream has become common practice depending upon how you want to present your product or yourself.  Patients included.  The New York Times piece cites the example of a surgery forestalled over a Facebook page.  Yet click farms have created over 14 million fraudulent Facebook pages.

What you learn about your patient is a function of your search history.  Eli Pariser in The Filter Bubble taught us that the algorithms of Google are based on the search history of the user not the reality of the individual being searched.  What one doctor learns about a patient will be entirely different from what another learns when they search.  And that’s because….

Google is built to sell advertising…. not divine patient information.

A patient’s story is a patient’s business.  Unless you aspire to petty digital paternalism, there may be elements of information that the patient doesn’t want you to know.  The disclosure, qualification and explanation of that information should be made by the patient.

While there may be a time and a place for the digital investigation of those we are charged to serve, I suspect they are few and far between.

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The Social Patient - Engaging Modern Medicine

The Social Patient - Engaging Modern Medicine | Social Media and Healthcare |
A brief introduction to the modern patient

In Tom Ferguson’s e-patient white paper, the authors proclaim a simple truth:

“The principle protagonist of our next-generation health care system will not be a computerized doctor, but a well-wired patient.”

The Internet has changed many parts of our day to day lives. But for patients (particularly acute cases or chronically ill) the Internet is an empowering tool with the power to change lives. It is a bridge between doctors and patients around the world.

Our society has shifted away from an Industrial Age paradigm, in which health professionals were the exclusive source of all medical knowledge and wisdom, into a paradigm that is more appropriate for the Information Age. Ours is a society of knowledge workers; it stands to reason that knowledge workers would transition into the role of the e-patient, a term commonly used to signify a modern patient that is equipped, enabled, empowered, and engaged.

(This is not the only term for this movement, but it is among the most commonly used.)

The Internet has put tools at our fingertips—tools that allow us to prepare for, supplement, and double-check our doctors. As a result, it is no longer necessary or even desirable for a patient to be passive.

We’ll all be patients in the end.

And lots of us become patients at assorted points all along the way. As a patient, you can rely heavily and exclusively on your doctor. Or you can actively participate in your own care, using the Internet as a resource and support mechanism.

When it comes down to it, what kind of patient will you be?


Being a patient in the social world

For those who choose to walk the road of the e-patient, benefits abound:

  • Less dependency on your practitioner, especially for day to day care;
  • Less fear of the unknown—an advantage in the changing landscape of health over a lifetime;
  • More able to ask well-informed questions, which add greatly to the efficacy of regular doctors’ appointments and improve overall quality of self-care;
  • More able to evaluate and provide feedback on the care that is provided;
  • Greater support through online communities both private and public

No one will ever understand what you feel and experience as a patient better than you do. And few doctors can even hope to keep up with half of the afflictions and treatments being researched and discussed today, with the exception of perhaps a small number of top specialists in given conditions.

With the transformation of knowledge worker into e-patient, the Internet has become the centerpiece of a new health ecosystem: a patient-driven hive of sharing and support.

In the new world, individuals have responded to the realities of the world of the modern patient by grouping together with the express interest of sharing information, learning from each other, and building relationships around conditions both common and rare.

These new health ecosystem can take on many forms, from modern social media groups to private websites with forums and bulletin boards to regularly-distributed email lists. They can be public or private, supported by organizations or completely self-arranged by patients.

Our core social networks, which most use quite casually every day, are also become a hub of patient communications and activity. Twitter is one of the leading examples of this community development, centered as it is on short-form public interaction. Why?

  • The “public” nature of the platform makes it easier for patients to find each other and connect than more privately oriented social networks like Facebook.
  • The short-form nature heavily supports the sharing of links, dialogue around the subjects of the articles, and especially extended conversation through Twitter chats and more general hashtags.

@MightyCasey meets @stales in person for the first time.

The relationships built through brief Twitter conversations then spill out into the rest of the online and offline world, as patients who connect on Twitter will then extend the conversation to venues on Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, and much of the rest of the Internet. Some patients also make a habit of meeting up at medical conferences or other events of common interest.

I’ve witnessed this myself, a couple of years ago at a patient conference in Kansas City. I watched people who had known each other for years online meet in person for the first time. Twitter came alive that weekend in a big way, and it became clear to me that thanks to social media, geography is no longer a factor when it comes to building relationships.

Those relationships build collaboration.

And collaboration, in the world of the patient, brings healing.

What does the modern patient expect from their health care providers?

“Personal online health networks function as a social version of our body’s immune system.”

So said Dr. Ferguson and his team in the white paper that I mentioned earlier in this post.

In fact, our communities—our ‘social immune system’—play many key roles in supporting our bodily well-being, from encouraging everyday wellness habits to providing support at the end of a life.

These online communities have become invaluable for patients. In fact, even more than that, they have become a major player when it comes to driving the advancement of health care and the growth of engaged patients.

With participation in online health communities comes education and a greater sense of confidence in dealing with the medical world. Patients’ expectations of their care shift. And so, eventually, the system must shift with it. What might those expectations and subsequent changes look like?

1)      Quality information on the patients’ turf. Doctors once controlled the flow of medical information. They disseminated diagnoses and research to their patients based on their own discretion. Many were qualified and honest, but no doctor can be an expert in every condition, particularly as the population of both people and diseases has increased.

The Internet has opened doors for patients—doors into medical libraries and respected journals, doors into conferences and hospital studies. As a result, many patients and caregivers (especially of chronic illness) become more expert on their condition than their primary care physicians—and even more than all but the top specialists in the field.

2)      High-level collaboration between patients and doctors. Patients have information on their turf, and social media means that they increasingly expect to be able to deal with doctors on that turf too. That means that patients will expect to be able to interact with their doctors via email…via video chat… via forums and social media and blogs. This is already happening, and the usage of technology to connect doctor and patient will only increase.

More important than that, though, is the need for respect for the role of the patient as a medical resource. There are still physicians out there who will be angry or dismissive when faced with a patient who is armed with information from the Internet—even articles from respected medical journals. Rather than dismissing engaged patients, doctors ought to draw them into collaborative dialogue about their care. With the power of online communities, just imagine what would be possible if caring, knowledgeable physicians collaborated with caring, knowledgeable patients in order to improve the quality of care?

3)      Social and logistical support between patients. A new medical diagnosis can be a life-changing moment. And in those life-changing moments, it can be helpful to know that you are not the only one who has dealt with them. Online patient communities meet this need, and many others. Their healing power is the power of relationship.

These relationships form around sharing access to relevant state-of-the-art information and medical referrals to the best doctors and the most caring hospitals. Unlike doctors, who may rotate (especially for those who get most of their care at urgent care clinics), the community will always be there for support, and to humanize medical information.

For people with limited access to professional care or those who are diagnosed with a particularly rare condition, these communities provide tips for day to day illness management, as well as ongoing support for those with an incurable condition.

Collaborative relationships between patients have changed lives. And even saved them.

Through the stories of individual patients and—increasingly—research from official studies, we have begun to see the power of what happens when patients and caregivers flock to the Internet in the face of both medical challenge and everyday medical care.

The Walking Gallery of Healthcare from Eidolon Films on Vimeo.

According to Dr. Ferguson’s research, patients and caregivers who take to the Internet and take control of their own wellness are more likely to both seek physician advice and be prepared for and engaged in appointments with their care providers.

It means that patients can once again be at the heart of their own care.

The Digital Age Health Care Marketplace

The same mindset shift that has occurred among many consumers is now happening more and more in health care environments.

Just as the Internet gave consumers easy access to price comparisons and product information and reviews, it has given patients access to accurate, current data and supportive communities.

Consumers gained the ability to make smarter decisions about the products and services they pursued. Patients gained the ability to take charge of their own care through access to knowledge that was not previously available.

Consumers and patients are now passive only by choice or by circumstance.

Rapid information access and the empowered mentality of social relationships have driven unparalleled collaboration and sharing between patients and caregivers, and their clinicians.

New technologies—ranging from smartphones and tablet computers to wearable devices like Google Glass— make it increasingly easy to access, create, and share data to relevant parties.

From now on, as generations age and seek medical care, there will be new expectations of the relationship between the doctor and the patient. This is not a bad thing. To paraphrase Alan Kay, it is the role of the medical community to lock into what’s best for the patient—not what is most comfortable for them. The transition has already begun.

Clinicians must ask: Am I ready to be a social-age doctor? How will I implement that commitment in my day to day practice and attitude towards patients?

Patients and caregivers must ask: Am I ready to stand up and be a full partner in my own care? What should I do to be a more engaged consumer of care?

The more people who answer the first question affirmatively, the more our system will change. And the more our system adjusts, the more improvements we will be likely to see in patient safety and overall quality of care.

Romain DEFOY's curator insight, January 20, 2014 10:03 AM

A must read / look (TED video)!

Gilbert C FAURE's curator insight, December 2, 2014 7:58 AM

the social patient?

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