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A Physician's Perspective: Meaningful Use of Health Technology

May 28 2012   8:18AM GMT

The intersection of telemedicine and social media

Posted by: DrJosephKim

At the American Telemedicine Association 2012 annual conference, there were a few (but limited) discussions about the use of secure social networks by physicians. There are a growing number of these closed, restricted networks that allow physicians to discuss specific patient cases. They are sharing images and videos and consulting each other about the medical care of patients. Although this type of asynchronous communication is not a live streaming video feed that you may get by using modern videoconferencing technologies, the use of these types of special social media tools and resources is a form of telemedicine.

Let me give you an example: Suppose a primary care physician in a rural part of Arkansas may post a photo of a rash found on a young child. Given that this is not an emergency, the doctor can wait a few days before making any changes to the child’s treatment plan. So, the physician posts the photo and a brief description of the child’s rash on secure, online social networking sites that are only available to U.S. physicians. Some examples include Doximity and SERMO. Once the photo and the information is posted, then U.S. physicians from around the country will comment about the rash and give the primary care doctor some suggestions on what to do next.

This is a form of telemedicine that offers significant value, but one of the biggest barriers revolves around the lack of billing and reimbursement for this type of informal consultation. Also, we need to be sure that these networks offer the right level of security to protect patient information that is getting shared among physicians. Finally, we need to make sure that we’re properly educating doctors about the appropriate ways to use these types of digital networks to communicate information about patients. Most physicians know that they should not be using public, open social networks like Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn to discuss sensitive patient information.

The world of telemedicine is evolving rapidly and these types of social media tools will soon become an integral part of the conversation. It’s certainly exciting to see that these┬ádigital┬ácommunication technologies will eventually replace obsolete forms of communication like faxes and the standard telephone.

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