Ashley McMaster, the senior health care editor at SmartBrief, recently interviewed Christina B. Thielst about her new book, “Social Media in Healthcare: Connect, Communicate, Collaborate.” Christina Thielst is a veteran hospital and health care administrator and entrepreneur. To learn more about Christina’s research, professional interests and specializations, visit her blog.

What do you see as the greatest challenges to achieving widespread health care provider use of social media tools? The greatest challenges are fear and not having a clear understanding of the technologies and how they can be applied.

Which medium/media do you see medical professionals using most often?
Right now medical professionals, especially physicians, are using social networking sites to connect with others who share common interests. Sites like Sermo and Physician Connect.

What benefits do providers say they see with using social media? What risks?
Benefits include increased exposure and new audiences; increased traffic to their websites; enhanced communications; more effective collaboration; reduced media costs; and awareness of unsatisfied patients families, employees and the public. There is a risk that someone will leave an unpleasant comment, but it is outweighed by becoming aware and being able to respond. There are other risks, but these can all be addressed by planning.

How are providers using social media to stay connected with patients?
Examples include Hello Health, which provides a social networking platform for physicians to incorporate into their practice, OneRecovery is offered by some providers to facilitate the patient’s aftercare plan and for peer support, and many are using social media to deliver education (podcasts, videocasts) or to engage health care consumers — i.e. blogs,, etc.

How do they use these tools to communicate with vendors?
One example is a provider who used Twitter to connect with vendors and employees during a disaster. Others are collaborating on wikis and communicating on social networking sites and on blogs. We are in the early stages with vendors, but I see growth, especially as vendors reach out to their customers (the providers) using social media.

Image credit, VisualField, via iStock Photo

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9 responses to “Why social media is good medicine for health care”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Leah Soleil. Leah Soleil said: RT @MTI_Printing: Why social media is good medicine for health care […]

  2. At its core, social media is an alternative means of communicating and because improving communication between health practitioners and patients is an ongoing effort, any new technology that aids that in that effort is of considerable importance. The only downside is related to understanding the scope at which one is communicating in order to be aware of privacy and confidentiality issues.
    My recent post Is Patient-Centered Medicine Bad For Overall Health Care Quality

  3. “What do you see as the greatest challenges to achieving widespread health care provider use of social media tools? The greatest challenges are fear…”

    This aligns well with what we experience too. Many physicians and medical practices are fearful of this very transparent and broadcasted patient communication we see in social media.

    Especially with relation to what constitutes a medical advice. Physicians are reluctant to let their employees embark on the social network platforms while they themselves are left with the liability.

    However, well crafted social media policies, employee education and the correct selection of technologies will help reduce the social media liability.


  4. The uses named here in this post are just a drop in the ocean

    My recent post Open Source in Medical Imaging and Collaboration

  5. I'd like to add two things that are weighing on health care providers as they look at social media:

    1. HIPPA — How does the health privacy act (HIPPA) apply to social media? It's unclear for many, including experts, and therefore many providers Just Say No to social media. That's unfortunate, because when used correctly, it can really help patients and healthcare providers.

    2. Reimbursement — Currently, there's no way to health care providers to get paid for engaging in social media. That's not a big deal if it's 5-10 minutes a day, but when it's 20-60 minutes a day, and your employer is counting your hours/billing, it turns into a big deal.

  6. RM Sorg says:

    Why wouldn't health care be the next to utilize social media… I would really love to see what happens in the following 3 areas of health care.. 1) More positive communication with patients.. Via means of social media, a patient can post questions, problems, etc and a nurse of doctor can leave a response asap… This will lower the amount of call ins, appts, patient frustration etc.. 2) Lower the cost, by providing help in "real-time." If patience have answers asap, no need for office visit… We need to lover the overall health care expenses.. 3) Doctor brand/ reputation awareness….

    Great post… Nice to see write ups in other fields.. We already see the important use of social media in other medical fields..

    RM 0 InBoundMarketingPR

  7. Christina says:

    HIPAA applies to social media, just as it does with any other form of communication or transmission of data, such as, telephones, FAXes and paper documents. HIPAA is more about how you treat personal health information, rather than which media you use to share it. As @textandshout points out, the easy response is to "just say no to social media" and that is part of the reason I wrote the book. My hope is that by helping healthcare professionals understand the new media, they will find ways to utilize it appropriately.

    I think reimbursement specifically for social media isn't likely to happen. However, with bundled payments and an emphaisis on keeping patients healthy, we will see use of social media with some patient populations. As I point out in the book, some payors and health savings accounts are adopting social media to help consumers wisely use their health dollars and minimize the risk of relapse. The cost of social media is insignificant when you consider the cost of a re-admission to a hospital or some outpatient programs.

  8. Christina says:

    Hospitals and other healthcare providers have always had to move carefully, so it is no surprise that they lag behind in social media. In some regards, this is good for all of us. However, we don't want them to move too slowly and to miss out on opportunities to appropriately connect with their patients in new ways.