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Guarded optimism around health care social media use

Public health officials can observe local health concerns via Twitter thanks to a new, free web-based technology sponsored by the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR). The app, MappyHealth, was the winner among 33 submissions to a developers’ contest.

This app is best used as a preliminary source unlike most disease-tracking apps which collect and report data after a disease’s outbreak. Health officials can proactively observe health concerns within a community and then educate the public on any widespread health issues.

“Having real-time information available in the public domain through social media like Twitter could be revolutionary for health officials watching out for the first clues to new, emerging infectious diseases in our communities and for modernizing our public health system,” Nicole Lurie, M.D., assistant secretary for preparedness and response and a rear admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service, said in the ASPR release.

Providers who are engaged in social media experience other benefits. A better ROI can be the bottom line for medical professionals who maintain a social media presence. Seeing positive testimonials about a doctor’s practice is reassuring for today’s patients, who are increasingly comfortable in the digital realm. Robert Zaid, a family medicine practitioner, from Novi, Michigan, estimated his yearly ROI to be $125,000 due to his website, while only spending between $200 and $300 yearly on website maintenance.

However, social media use among medical professionals should be practiced cautiously. Accountable care organizations should regulate their social media use policy, recommends Healthblawg author David Harlow. Organizations should review their social media policy every six months, according to Harlow. Employees should be educated on the proper ways to interact with patients via new technology, rather than denying them the right to use social media.

Negative medical encounters can also be broadcast over social media. ProPublica, a non-profit news organization, used Facebook to create a platform for patient harm victims to share their story with other concerned patients. This idea allows patients to interact with each other, removing anonymity and giving a more personal feel to patient safety. It uses social media to spread health care safety information, providing the same basic function as the MappyHealth application.

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