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Communicating with Patients Online: Where Real Wellness Begins

By Debbie Myers

Having worked in healthcare for 27 years, I have always been a firm believer in taking advantage of preventive health services. Wellness check-ups for my babies and myself, preventive screenings, blood pressure and cholesterol checks, twice-annual teeth cleanings – if it’s covered by insurance or recommended as part of a preventive health plan – I’m there. So, it doesn’t surprise me that my daughters, now new moms themselves, take the same approach.

My daughters have been champions of primary care with their friends – often helping them find a primary care physician and encouraging them to get an annual physical. They take advantage of the nurse hotline at their pediatrician’s office to ask questions about their infants little cough or perpetual running nose. But their preventive plan has an added dimension that I did not have when they were little. My girl’s wellness check-ups begin online. That’s where they go to research symptoms, look up information and draw some conclusions before making the decision if it’s time to call a doctor.  And, increasingly, it’s becoming a channel where conversation with the physician occurs.

Nearly all doctors are using some type of social media for personal uses, such as Facebook and Twitter. According to the online physician learning collaborative QuantiaMD, nearly 90% of physicians reported that they used at least one social media site personally. Gradually, more physicians are also using social media professionally. A study published in The Journal of Medical Internet Research found that a growing number of physicians are using social media to share medical information with each other and to stay up to date. In addition, although in fewer numbers, there are some physicians like Wendy Sue Swanson, a pediatrician and author of the Seattle Mama Doc blog, who see social media as a useful tool for sharing trusted health information with their patients. Dr. Swanson feels that physicians have a responsibility to be online to provide credible health information and to counter some of the misinformation found online. Another pediatrician Natasha Burgert, M.D. from Kansas City, Mo., uses social media to communicate with her adolescent patients. With permission from their parents, Dr. Burgert sends text messages to patients to check up on how they are feeling and she sends them links to relevant information they can find online.

Drs. Burgert and Swanson both understand a key fundamental of communication – you need to use the channels your audience uses in order to reach them. They also know that when you make the process of communication easy and accessible; patients are more willing to use it.  Even for my wellness oriented daughters, when they encounter barriers to reaching their doctors, like being put on hold or waiting for an hour in the waiting room for an appointment, they become frustrated and more likely to want to avoid the doctor altogether. But, they are encouraged with the introduction of electronic medical records and the ability to email questions to their doctors and make appointments online.

With the healthcare industry moving toward a model of population health management and needing to keep people healthy and out of the hospital, patient-doctor communication takes on a whole new level of importance.  Physicians who are willing to go where patients are and establish easy avenues for engagement will be the kind of physicians that truly make an impact on the wellness of their patients.

About Debbie Myers:

By delivering proven results for clients, Debbie has helped PadillaCRT become one of the top 20 Health PR and marketing firms in the country. With 28 years of healthcare public relations and marketing experience, she has a strong background in strategic communications planning, branding and issues management. Debbie is an Senior Vice President at PadillaCRT and co-leads the agency's Health Practice. Debbie holds a bachelor’s degree in mass communications from Marietta College in Marietta, Ohio, and a master’s in business administration from Averett University in Danville, Va.

6 Comments on “Communicating with Patients Online: Where Real Wellness Begins

  1.  by  Rachael Seda

    Great post Debbie. I went to a session that Dr. Swanson (@seattlemamadoc) spoke at in 2012 at SXSW. I was blown away by her intellect, forward thinking and future vision for healthcare. I hope more physicians and healthcare providers embrace new avenues of communication and technology like she has!

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