How Doctors Are Using Social Media to Connect With Patients

Primary care doctors are turning (slowly) to outlets like Facebook and Twitter to connect and share.

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[The Era of Electronic Medical Records]

Earlier this year, Lee used Facebook to promote his practice's annual fitness challenge. More than 100 people—patients, employees, and affiliated hospital staffers—posted Facebook photos of themselves taking part in weekly challenges, like climbing 20 flights of stairs, and posted frequent updates on their progress. "One challenge was recording the maximum number of steps you could do in a day," Lee says. "People posted their numbers, and they kept getting higher and higher, up to 72,000 steps. The sense of competition was very motivational."

Some doctors are latching onto social media to issue real-time alerts and reminders, a unarguably valuable service for time-pressed patients. Stream cites colleagues who tweet when they're running late for appointments, for instance, so patients know they needn't rush to the office. Others post hours for flu shot clinics and encourage patients not to overlook the vaccine.

A downside of social media is the additional squeeze it puts on doctors' crammed schedules. But a tweet here and Facebook post there is part of practicing medicine in today's technology-saturated society, Lee says. "It's the evolution of how we communicate with each other. And I have to remind doctors that if they think they don't have time for this—and if they don't have instant access to mobile communications—they may be behind the learning curve and behind the times."