Using Social Media To Educate Patients – A Tweet Chat

The definition of social media is dynamic and evolving. It generally refers to “Internet-based tools that allow individuals and communities to gather and communicate; to share information, ideas, personal messages, images, and other content; and, in some cases, to collaborate with other users in real time.

There are a variety of social media sites that serve different purposes. Among the most common ones are for: (1) Social networking – e.g. Facebook, Twitter; (2) Professional Networking – e.g. LinkedIn; (3) Media sharing – e.g. Youtube, Pinterest, Flickr; (4) Content production – e.g. blogs [Tumblr, WordPress], microblogs [Twitter]; (5) Knowledge information/aggregation – e.g. Wikipedia; and (6) Virtual reality and gaming environments.

Social media is a powerful tool of communication and it has the power to engage target markets that were traditionally hard to reach. The industries that benefit most from its use include entertainment, real estate, marketing, retail, education, food (particularly restaurants), and fashion. It can be assumed that it has potential in changing the way health in general is communicated, too. But are healthcare professionals ready to use social media for educating their patients?

According to Ventola, recent studies have shown that physicians have begun to develop an interest in interacting with patients online. At least in the US, around 60% of physicians favor the use of social media in engaging with patients. Their purposes were to educate and monitor health, as well as encourage behavioral change and drug adherence, hoping that it will lead to better education, increased compliance, and better outcomes. On the other hand, other studies have shown conflicting results. Of four hundred eighty (480) surveyed practicing and student physicians, around 68% considered interacting with patients via social media, whether for professional or personal reasons, is ethically wrong.

To provide guidance on the use of the digital environment for medical purposes, the American College of Physicians and Federation of State Medical Boards released a position paper in 2013 that provided recommendations about “the influence of social media on the patient-physician relationship, the role of these media in public perception of physician behaviors, and strategies for physician–physician communication that preserve confidentiality while best using these technologies.” The table below shows common online physician activities and their associated benefits and pitfalls, as well as recommendations on how to mitigate risks.

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In the Philippine setting, the HCP-patient relationship, particularly the physician-patient relationship, is still largely traditional. While social media is already being used by organizations or institutions to promote health in general, there are few individual practitioners who utilize social media as a means to engage and educate patients. Examples are the core collaborators of HealthXPh – Dr. Iris Isip-Tan, Dr. Gia Sison, Dr. Remo-tito Aguilar, Dr. Narciso Tapia,  Dr. Helen Madamba, Dr. Jaifred Lopez, and Dr. Stephania Miaco; and popular Filipino physicians with huge followings on Facebook – Dr. Willie T. Ong and Dr. Philip Nino Tan-Gatue – among others.

On the other end of the spectrum, the potential Filipino patients are already very active on social media. Around 60 million – roughly 58% of the population – have access to the internet. Based on the Digital in 2017 report, the Filipinos spend the most time on the internet using social media, with use averaging 4 hours and 17 minutes per day, and this is despite the slow internet speed in the Philippines. The country has a social media penetration rate of 58%, which is higher than the regional average of 47%. Use of social networking site is considered as the top online activity of the average Filipino internet user.

Social media has proven to be a powerful tool in reaching out to a wider audience than traditional communication methods. Considering the Philippine data on social media use of Filipinos, social media can be considered as a resource that has much potential for significantly enhancing the delivery of health education to the general public.

This October 13, Friday, from 9:00-10:00 PM (GMT+8), join me (@littledoktora) and my colleagues (@rdahildahil_, @agmolina, @BSMantaring, @jappyRN) on Twitter as we discuss how social media may be used by healthcare professionals for engaging and educating patients, as well the benefits and risks of doing so. Tweet us using #SocMedForHealth and #UPMSHI.

  • Q1: What are your thoughts/concerns on the use of social media for educating patients?
  • Q2: Which social media platform/s would you consider using to educate your patients and why?
  • Q3: What are examples of best practice of online behavior for physicians and allied medical professionals when educating patients through social media?

Reading List:

  1. Digital in 2017: Southeast Asia Regional Overview – https://wearesocial.com/special-reports/digital-southeast-asia-2017
  2. Social Media Use in Healthcare: A Systematic Review of Effects on Patients and On Their Relationship with Healthcare Professionals – https://bmchealthservres.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12913-016-1691-0
  3. Online Medical Professionalism: Patient and Public Relationships: Policy Statement From the American College of Physicians and the Federation of State Medical Boards – http://annals.org/aim/article/1675927/online-medical-professionalism-patient-public-relationships-policy-statement-from-american
  4. A Profile of Internet Users in the Philippines – https://www.rappler.com/brandrap/profile-internet-users-ph
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