As consumers we are using social networks to manage just about every aspect of our daily lives. From the way we rate and purchase items to the way we plan our next vacation, we depend on our networks to help us make decisions. We share our lives with others. We seek connection and access. We find value in our networks; they enrich us, expand our knowledge and extend our relationships.
So how are we using these same networks to guide our health and our most important health decisions?
Today patients are participating actively in all aspects of personal health information. Patients are searching for the best knowledge and recommendations to empower themselves for a healthier life.
Many turn to social network groups for support, reassurance and specific health news. A recent article entitled, Healthcare Performance Management in the Era of Twitter discusses how social networks improve patient care by connecting healthcare providers and consumers.
According to the article, 61% of Americans are turning to the Internet for health information, particularly for consumer reviews and comments.
Internet-enabled communities of patients and providers are coming together to communicate and collaborate, explains Brian Klepper, Ph.D., Healthcare Analyst and Consultant, Health 2.0 Advisors. In so doing, these virtual communities are reshaping the way healthcare is delivered and consumed,Ó he says.
Further, a recent Pew Internet Study suggests, The Internet has changed peoples relationship with information. Our data consistently show that doctors, nurses and other health professionals continue to be the first choice for most people with health concerns, but online resources, including advice from peers, are a significant source of health information in the U.S.
So how are healthcare providers using social media networks to engage and empower patients? Medical professionals are experimenting with many types of electronic tools to help manage health costs and improve the quality of care. Online social networks offer a unique platform allowing healthcare providers to connect with patients as a larger population. Providers can make recommendations for treatment, comment on the latest medical findings and respond instantly to patient inquiries.
At Sarasota Memorial Hospital in Florida patients tweet their doctor when they have questions about their care. At Chicago's Rush University Medical Center physicians keep connected with patients through Facebook so that they are notified of their recovery. During a real-time brain surgery in March 2009, doctors at Detroit's Henry Ford Hospital answered questions via tweets, broadcasting to more than 1,900 followers.
Other healthcare connector sites include PatientsLikeMe.com where patients can compare care options and outcomes with specialized groups. Sermo and Doximity are web and mobile based social networking platforms where physicians can share insights about medicine and specific cases.
Social media has created new possibilities for patient and provider communication. These tools allow healthcare communities to connect and form support networks that were unimaginable a short time ago. Such networks, in turn, create new platforms for healthcare providers to listen to their patients and provide them with resources to be more accountable. Networks empower recovery and increase the potential for better health outcomes. The power of a network depends on its activity and participation.
Historically, healthcare professionals have been slow to adopt information technology. In 2011, that rate of adoption has accelerated. Healthcare and physical therapy may finally be at a tipping point.
Guest post by Co-authored by Bronwyn Spira, PT, and Mark Fields, PhD, MPH.
Bronwyn Spira is Founder and President of Force Therapeutics, a web-based comprehensive patient management solution for physical therapists. She owns a private practice in New York City where she treats orthopedic and sports injured patients. Mark Fields PhD, MPH is a Digital Marketing Associate for Force Therapeutics.