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Changing the Tides of Healthcare Communication with Social Media

By Tim Soo

Health is social. Yet, the thought of a patient tweeting about a health condition or a physician updating his or her status to ask for a second opinion on a tough case is far from normal. We like how easy it is to friend, post, and share on Facebook, but the reality is that some topics just aren’t quite right for these traditional social network communities for one reason or another.

As a whole, the general attitude towards social media must be treated with much greater delicacy when dealing with health, and issues like verified credibility of sources, privacy concerns and easy accessibility have proven to be hurdles for bringing these conversations online. The unique privacy and security requirements of healthcare make it one of the first “verticals” in need of specialized networks for both doctors and patients alike. Today we’re seeing new networks and tools being developed to that both fill voids and address these pain points in regulation, which in many cases are resulting in a more engaging and productive experience for all involved.

While the underlying social media ‘issues’ in the healthcare space are consistent across all populations—credibility, trust, security, privacy, accessibility—the way they manifest and are being addressed differs depending on whether the end user is a doctor or a patient. Doximity, the largest professional network for doctors and medical students, and Meddik, a new online platform empowering patients to easily search for health information and learn from the collective experience of others, are two companies that illustrate the differences in how these pain points play out.

The medical profession is perhaps one of the most socially interdependent networks, with physicians depending on their colleagues for face-to-face training, consult, and advice. A platform like Doximity provides a way to extend these interactions and relationships to a consolidated, secure and easily accessible online space. Rigorous verification of users prevents patients, companies, or drug representatives from being involved in the conversation, thus allowing Doximity members to pinpoint and communicate with other experts, which is key for trust and security. Unlike traditional social networks, physicians and medical students use their real names and their identities are authenticated–meaning that the system validates that they are who that they say they are, bringing a whole new level of credibility and confidence to communication across the network.

Patients, too, turn to their extended network for advice, support and information. Meddik’s machine-learning technology combined with user-generated content allows patients to quickly access and share the wealth of information derived from the experience of other patients like them. In this scenario, transparency is key—knowing exactly where the information is coming from, why it’s helpful, and what benefit a user receives from listening to and sharing with others. On a network like Doximity where physicians communicate about shared patients or searching for expert referrals, transparency demands the real identity of the user—if not, how is it credible? In the case of the patient however, U.S. patient privacy laws protecting all individually identifiable health information in addition to the possibility of social embarrassment, necessitate anonymity and privacy over true identities. Credibility on a health site like Meddik, then, is established more through the gravity of shared difficulties rather than public credentials. The benefit for the patient comes in being empowered to search and seek the knowledge that will enable them to take control of their health without the fear of embarrassment.

The fact that it’s just as imperative for doctors to go by their real identity online as it is for patients to remain anonymous is fascinating. Even more fascinating is that both approaches, although polar opposite from one another, work towards the common goal of optimizing content and eliminating excess noise for the respective populations. For the physician-to-physician network, this kind of privacy can lead to improved real-time collaboration and secure communication among doctors with shared patients. The anonymous patient-to-patient structure of a site like Meddik translates to optimal sharing of information, advice, and solutions tailored to the individual user without compromising comfort and identity.

A final thought for consideration is how these tools are accelerating the access to experts and information. Compatibility with existing platforms and an easy to use interface are just the tip of the iceberg for efficient access to these resources. Doximity itself is available for free on the web and as an app for iPhone and Android smartphones, which is essential for the forever mobile lifestyle of the desk-less physician, and patients interested in the resources Meddik offers can easily access their accounts on the Meddik website. What’s particularly exciting about the current state of healthcare social media though is its potential to instantaneously disseminate resources and information to the masses—a much welcome and needed disruption for an industry that normally takes 17 years for medical innovations like the stethoscope to be widely adopted.

If one thing is certain, it’s that companies like Doximity and Meddik are redesigning the very way physician and patient groups are communicating about health. A network like Doximity’s rapid embrace is a clear indicator that the American health system has been craving a tool to efficiently and securely connect medical professionals that can easily be incorporated into every physician’s workflow. And by accelerating patient-to-patient communication on networks like Meddik, we create more informed individuals that are able to reach support and actionable solutions more quickly. Implemented correctly, these social tools can connect the people that need to know with the people that do know, which boosts productivity and saves everyone involved, from the physician to the patient, the much-valued resource of time. Better communication means better medicine and tools like Doximity and Meddik are are addressing traditional pain points, leaving them at the leading edge of creating affordable and efficient tools for health communication.

 

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Tim Soo is a MD candidate at the University of Pennsylvania and a co-founder of Meddik (www.meddik.com).

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