Health and Medical News and Resources

General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

Social media serves as a powerful tool for patients disclosing illnesses

From the 6 July blog posting at Health IT Exchange

No matter the trend, social media has a role in some capacity. That’s the case for health IT as patients are increasingly disclosing medical diagnoses online for consolation purposes, according to a study released in late June by marketing and consulting firm Russell Herder.

The study was conducted over a 90-day period in which 62,893 online self-disclosures of illnesses were monitored. To obtain these self-disclosures, researchers tracked particular phrases such as “I tested positive for,” “I’ve been diagnosed with” and “Doctor said I’ve got.”

Patients tended to disclose certain conditions:

Cancer: 40%
Diabetes: 16%
Chronic Fatigue: 10%
Arthritis: 7%
ADHD: 7%
Asthma: 5%
AIDS: 5%
STD: 5%
Epilepsy: 2%
Heart Disease: 2%
Alzheimer’s: 1%…
…From a patient perspective, getting support via social media could be convenient since it can be done without leaving home. And that’s why the results of the social media study do not surprise Dr. Robert Murry, medical director of informatics at Hunterdon Medical Center in Flemington, N.J.

There is closure to be found in connecting with others during a difficult time, Murry said. “Patients, particularly with rare chronic diseases frequently find value in social media dedicated to their disease.” Although he does not actively participate in these practices, he said he knew that social media would find its way into the health care landscape.

Even with its benefits, the arrival of social media raises awareness on issues such as provider boundaries, provider and patient relationships and the importance of social media policies.

What constitutes a medical visit? For example, if a provider views a patient’s disclosure of a chronic illness and responds in a chat forum, does that qualify as an appointment? Keely Kolmes, a psychotherapist in San Francisco, noted in her private practice social media policy that “casual viewing of clients’ online content outside of the therapy hour can create confusion in regard to whether it’s being done as a part of your treatment or to satisfy my personal curiosity.”

Malpractice concerns. This is a focal point since it deals with the delicate provider-to-patient relationship. Social media is widely used in provider-to-provider networking, but networking in the context of provider-to-patient is risky business because the conversation is often casual. Information can be easily misconstrued. If a patient is harmed based on advice from a provider — not to mention in an informal setting — it could be a malpractice nightmare. Also consider that if a provider gave advice based on a past patient’s medical record, it would violate the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations.

Social media policies. Adopting or creating a clear social media policy and making it accessible is important. Kolmes’ policy distinguishes which mediums she participates in, how she participates and also addresses privacy concerns. She does not accept friend or contact requests in any social media platforms, citing “that adding clients as friends or contacts on these sites can compromise your confidentiality and our respective privacy.”…

July 12, 2011 Posted by | Consumer Health | , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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