As the HIMSS11 conference opened this past Sunday in Orlando, Fla., “meaningful use” of health IT were the buzzwords. So were the implementation of RFID technologies and the HIPAA conversion to the new 5010 standard. Also at the top of the agenda were the application of social technologies in healthcare and maximization of network activities.
In a sign of the times, HIMSS11 had a social media center, where leading industry bloggers discussed current trends and engagement of e-patients. This year’s conference also featured new amenities, such as screens that displayed the latest #HIMSS11 Tweets, kiosks used to explore and join the HIMSS Group on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, as well as a lounge area where attendees could connect with each other.
Although healthcare has been slow to adopt social media compared to other industries, the tide is changing, as illustrated by HIMSS11’s wholehearted adoption of social media. At latest count, 906 hospitals were using social media, including the Mayo Clinic, which just a few weeks ago launched their Center for Social Media.
The Sarasota Memorial Hospital uses Twitter to answer patient questions – everything from where to have flowers delivered to customer service complaints. The Henry Ford hospital features live Twitter surgery events with questions and answers during actual operations. “Doctors have a duty to engage in social media,” said Dr. Kevin Pho, a primary care physician in Nashua, N.H., who blogs about healthcare on KevinMD.com. “Doctors who are not on Facebook, Twitter, and blogs, run the risk of becoming irrelevant.”
But while the medical community uses sites such as Sermo, Medpedia, iMedExchange, and Ozmosis for physician-to-physician exchanges, including discussing diagnosis challenges, treatments, and a range of other clinical issues, there is more murky social media ground for platforms with a more open public exchange. What about boundary breaches for “befriending” patients? Disseminating information on specific patients? Practicing medicine in jurisdictions where the clinician is not licensed?
The American Medical Association issued guidelines for social media use last year to help physicians protect patient privacy as well as physicians’ reputation. Most are obvious. However, one rule concerning the separation of personal and professional content online is a trap that ensnares some doctors, said John Luginbill, an Indianapolis-based expert on social networking and healthcare. “Physicians sometimes start using their personal Facebook page for a dual business/personal purpose, which of course is a bad idea.”
Bryan Vartabedian, a pediatrician at Texas Children’s Hospital who blogs on 33 Charts, offers these social media guidelines for physicians:
Remember everyone is listening. Whether Facebook, Twitter, Cinch, or a personal blog, it all becomes searchable content that defines a physician’s online reputation.
More is not better. Focus on the slow building of meaningful connections. On Twitter, for example, there’s no need to follow a thousand people. Focus instead on 30-50 of the smartest people you can find or who help you meet your goals.
Don’t be anonymous. Anonymity is a fantasy, and may cause you to voice more hard-edged opinions and views that will ultimately get you in trouble, as “Flea,” a Boston physician who blogged under a pseudonym about his ongoing medical malpractice case, discovered.
Don’t talk about patients. Even after “de-identifying” patient information, it still isn’t smart to discuss what you’ve been doing in the clinic. Patients may still be able to identify themselves, which can represent a breach of trust.
Huntley McNabb of MedSynergies, a healthcare consulting firm, offers the additional social media guidelines for physicians:
Ideas for content include: sharing health articles or studies your followers might find interesting; giving general health advice, such as recommending flu shots (but not giving advice to individual patients); mentioning new hires or practice news; notifying patients of openings in schedules.
Be ready to respond to comments and criticism.
If yourpractice is already meeting its patient-volume goals, then the time invested in social media may not be worth it.
Cindy Atoji is a Boston-based journalist who specializes in technology, business, and healthcare news coverage. A former Boston Herald editor, Cindy blogs for the Globe and BodiMojo.com, and writes for various national publications. Visit her Website at www.CindyAtoji.com.