Using #facebook to contact your #physician?

Using #facebook to contact your #physician?

getty_465291919_970647970450054_52432When was the last time you contacted your physician through facebook?

Don’t worry – you are not alone.. a recent study found that of a sample of 2,500 CVS Pharmacy customers, 37% reported contacting their physician via email and 18% through facebook.

As the study quotes, Patients were interested in using Web-based tools to fill prescriptions, track their own health, and access health information (37–57 %), but few were currently doing so (4–8 %)…”

So why is this the case, when patient-physician communications are so important, and have shown to have a direct impact on outcomes and patient satisfaction?

There are several reasons which the study cites: policy, security and patients’/physicians’ comfort with social media.

“This study tells us that for most patients, healthcare isn’t quite ready for the future,” Joy Lee, one of the study’s authors, told The Huffington Post.

In fact, there’s something of a patient engagement paradox in healthcare, Lee said.

“On the one hand, doctors, policymakers, and researchers often talk about the need to engage patients,” she explained. On the other hand, many patients are already engaged — in Facebook and other online communities. Yet instead of embracing this connection, medicine is preoccupied with confidentiality and drawing professional boundaries.

However, with the recent trends towards telemedicine and connected health, a lot could be changing in a short period in this arena from a provider and payer perspective.

Telemedicine is being promoted as the next big thing in healthcare, with a saving of almost $100 per routine visit, and some projecting it to be a $5 billion business in the next five years. In addition, several technologies are helping bolster the trend: faster networks, powerful connected devices, IoT, and patients’ expertise with messaging. In addition to multiple startups, established companies like NEC have jumped into the field, with telemedicine offerings geared towards specific industries like education and hospitality.

Connected health is defined as “Connected health aims to maximize healthcare resources and provide increased, flexible opportunities for consumers to engage with clinicians and better self-manage their care. It uses technology – often leveraging readily available consumer technologies – to deliver patient care outside of the hospital or doctor’s office. Connected health encompasses programs in telehealth, remote care (such as home care) and disease and lifestyle management, often leverages existing technologies such as connected devices using existing cellular networks and is associated with efforts to improve chronic care.”

Which brings us back to the use of social media in patient-physician communications going forward. A very interesting infographic in Adweek (calling it “Peer to Peer Health”) may provide clues: “More than 40% of consumers say that information found via social media affects the way they deal with their health…”. 

Add to that the fact that more payers are now moving towards outcome based payments, it is logical to assume that we should see an explosion in the use of social media for patient-physician communications, using newer apps or solutions built on foundations of established platforms like facebook and twitter.

As Lee says, “Many patients are interested in [these services] but few are actually using them — possibly because patients don’t know they’re available,” Lee said. “Doctors and health care organizations should take steps to publicize and educate patients of these opportunities. Either way, it starts with a conversation between patients and doctors on how they prefer to communicate online.”

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