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Technology strengthening physician-patient relationship

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Social media targeted at healthcare one way to engage patients

The success of social media platforms has providers trying to transition their models into healthcare, but some security concerns stand in the way.

In their quest to engage patients, providers must be careful to avoid being tripped up by obstacles that appear when social media is used as a health information exchange platform. Yet the rise in popularity of social media sites across numerous patient demographics may provide the answer to a number of patient engagement questions plaguing providers.

Patients today are connecting with their friends, families and coworkers by sharing information on social sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Yammer and Instagram. The appeal of these tools is that they're available across multiple platforms and are easy ways to share text, photos and other media.

Many hospitals and providers have been trying to get their patients to use those same ideas to share health information within their EHR systems. Unfortunately for providers, getting patients to share their data, connect via social media and ultimately improve their outcomes has not been a simple task.

One of the key elements that makes social media sites an attractive target for healthcare professionals is their popularity. A common obstacle that patients face when connecting with their physicians or using personal health record (PHR) portals is the quantity being offered to them. Patients who are treated by more than one physician may have to familiarize themselves and track a number of different products, portals and applications.

In many of today's apps, it is common to find a "like" button or "share" option that can connect with several social media sites. This is a testament to the success of many of these sites, because their users expect wearable device makers and app developers to support their sharing of data. Providers will ideally offer a platform similar to the previously mentioned social sites, complete with a central repository of a patient's health information and an ongoing journal of their vitals, medications and other PHR elements. A social media site can serve as a template for developing a platform that will engage patients. In this case, the finalized platform will resemble one that will look familiar to many, and one with which many developers and medical device manufacturers can work.

While the popularity of available social media sites offers providers a compelling reason to build off their success, there are privacy concerns that many of today's social media sites are not HIPAA-compliant. As more EHR vendors and healthcare professionals continue to tweak the social tools and methods they use, we will continue to see more interactions between physicians and patients. With the increasing convergence and consolidation of EHR vendors, there might soon be a smaller number of communication platforms in regular use.

Healthcare professionals seek feedback from those they treat in order to provide more focused healthcare advice to patients. Whether it is a reaction to a medication, or new symptoms that appear after a hospital discharge, it's both challenging and important for providers to stay with their patients and continue to supply them with targeted care. It's not uncommon to see patients seeking advice from social media sources instead of turning to the professionals who treated them.

Providers can eliminate this by offering to communicate with their patients through a secure social media platform. Many patients are increasing their use of mHealth apps and sharing their health statistics online with their friends and family. Providers and app developers alike have taken notice of this trend. A number of medical device manufacturers are also capitalizing on this shift by injecting content sharing capabilities into their technologies to ensure patients can easily share their information to the most popular social media sites.

About the author:
Reda Chouffani is vice president of development with Biz Technology Solutions Inc., which provides software design, development and deployment services for the healthcare industry. Let us know what you think about the story; email
 editor@searchhealthit.com or contact @SearchHealthIT on Twitter.

Next Steps

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This was first published in July 2014

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