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Social Media And The Future Of Hospital Communications

I took care of a young lady the other day whom I admitted for  diabetic ketoacidosis.  She asked me what her bicarbonate level was.  I was a bit surprised since most of the time my DKA patients’ don’t care what their bicarb levels are.  I told her it was eight.  For the non medical types out there, that’s low.  That’s critically low.
I asked her why she wanted to know.  And before she could even get the words out, she had posted a Tweet onto her Twitter acount to update all her friends and family of her impending hospital admission.  I found that fascinating.

I’ve been a hospitalist for seven years now.  When I started, my phone couldn’t do anything but call people.  Now I have an iPhone that functions like a portable mini computer filled with wireless internet, 3G high speed data transfer, instant weather, text messaging, camera, GPS maps and 100,000 applications at my finger tips.  When I was a medical student and resident, my hospital wouldn’t even allow cell phone usage near patient floors for fear of interference with wireless hospital telemetry boxes and ventilator equipment.  How silly that sounds now.

I can’t even imagine what I’ll be carrying around seven years from now.  For my patient, she chose to use her phone to access her Twitter account to let the world know about the state of her health.  I’m sure she also updated her  Facebook status before I was done writing my hospital admission orders.
While many  people worry about the privacy of their health problems, many more are turning to social networking sites to liberate themselves from the secrecy of their health problems.  I think social networking sites will  revolutionize a public’s perception of depression and disease  and help patients focus on recovery rather than secrecy.  There is a large amount of liberation and relief that comes with  discussing  your medical problems with others around you.

As many of you know, Mrs Happy and I have been going through a fertility process for the last several years.  I made a conscious choice early on in my blog to be honest and open about that process.  For many couples, problems with fertility cause them to shut down in a shame of secrecy.  I think that’s sad.  There are probably millions of couples out there just like us who struggle with problems of pregnancy.  I can’t think of a single reason why the process should be buried in secrecy.

Perhaps someday, hospitalized patients will have 24 hour immediate access to social network portals at their bedside, with live streaming updates and real time recording of their discussions with doctors and nurses to keep friends and families in tune with what’s going on.  Perhaps this process will also reduce physician risk  and malpractice by better documenting discussions with patients and families who feel they were not given appropriate care.

Perhaps someday Twitter will create a secure Tweeting network for doctors and nurses to communicate with patients and each other.  Perhaps someday Happys’ hospital system will link directly with a patient’s portable health site on Facebook so they can take their hospital records with them without doing a thing.
As technology expands exponentially and the abilities of today’s computers are dwarfed by the  next generation processors, hospitalist  medicine and social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook  may someday find themselves partners in a unique opportunity to provide patients and the families of patients  with better quality of care, improved efficiency, and better real time communication of real time medical care.

Perhaps someday I could Tweet a negative CT result to the patient as soon as I get the result, instead of having them wait until the next day wondering for hours whether they have cancer or not.  Perhaps someday, I could Facebook the daily chest xray picture to  an anxious man wondering if his lungs are getting better or worse, so he’s prepared for my daily rounds and discussion.

The possibilities are endless.  Social networking for hospitalized patients offers a unique opportunity to reduce costs, decrease anxiety  and improve communication between doctors, nurses, patients and families for people who have nothing better to do than Tweet and update their Facebook status between biopsies, x-rays and lab draws.

*This blog post was originally published at Happy Hospitalist*

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One Response to “Social Media And The Future Of Hospital Communications”

  1. Aurora says:

    As a someone employed in social media marketing, I find this post to be very fascinating. I think that in the future, there will be an overwhelming ammount of communication online. I imagine a sort of sixth sense, where we connect and find information, even communicate in ways that are unobtrusive (hopefully) and pervasive. I don’t think that creating boundaries between medical professionals and patients is necessarily the answer, and I agree that increased transparency is a good (and inevitable) thing.

    I think that a lot of the transparency will come from the patients. As a doctor, do you think that it is ever appropriate for the doctor to share information about patients on social networks? When would this be appropriate?

    -Aurora from MDiTV

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