Healthcare professionals, including doctors, nurses, administrators and I.T. managers for hospitals, are using social media for both personal and professional purposes, according to a survey carried out in April and May of this year by Frost & Sullivan in conjunction with QuantiaMD and the Institute for Health Technology Transformation. The new study based on the survey confirms social media's applicability to the healthcare industry, but also highlights major obstacles to further adoption, including privacy, liability, and regulatory concerns.
(For the purposes of the survey, social media was defined as "not only social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, but also professional and patient networking communities specific to the medical field, blogs and sites such as YouTube").
Overall 84% of respondents said they use social media for personal purposes, and a remarkable 75% said they use it for professional purposes within their institutions; 68% reported using it for both purposes. Over 65% of physicians said they use social media in some form for professional purposes, with much of this activity is taking place on online physician communities, used by 28% of physicians. Docs also say they think online patient communities are beneficial, especially for people with chronic illnesses, cancer, or rare disease -- but warn that there is potential for spreading misinformation as well
Looking ahead, Frost & Sullivan identified several key areas of social media opportunity for the healthcare industry. One interesting suggestion: hospitals and other healthcare institutions (including, presumably, insurance companies and the like) can create and monitor social communities that strengthen the institution's reputation, educate patients about healthcare options, and also allow close tracking of patient feedback. On that note, some of the most frequently-cited goals were marketing, building brand awareness, and business development.
Previously I wrote about an article in the New England Journal of Medicine by Dr. Raina M. Merchant, an emergency physician and assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Pearlman School of Medicine, titled "Integrating Social Media into Emergency-Preparedness Efforts," in which Merchant notes the role played by social media for disseminating public health-related information in a variety of disaster or emergency situations. During the 2009 H1N1 flu epidemic, the Department of Health and Human Services hosted a "Mommycast" on YouTube (which could also be downloaded as an iTunes video podcast) which reached on million viewers with information about vaccinations. In Haiti, social media helped track a dangerous outbreak of cholera following the 2010 earthquake, which left some of the island nation's water supply contaminated. Merchant also noted that waiting times for emergency rooms and clinics are already being publicized in some parts of the U.S. through mobile-phone applications, billboard RSS feeds, or hospital tweets.
I also wrote about a presentation to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta by Dr. Caitlin Reed of the LA County Department of Public Health, examining the role of social media in tracking an outbreak of Legionnaire's Disease which was traced back to the Playboy Mansion. Social media played a role almost from the beginning of the outbreak, with a "cluster of respiratory illness reported by attendees via social media." Social media was also central to the follow-up, allowing the LACDPH to send an online survey to all 715 conference attendees.