Patients are more social media savvy than ever, with many seeking out Facebook pages, Twitter posts, and YouTube videos as sources of medical information. Although such online communications between doctors and patients can be fraught with privacy and confidentiality issues, within properly established guidelines, social media can be a cost-effective outlet for information exchange, as rheumatologists and auxiliary staff at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City recently discovered.
The 3 doctors, accompanied by a nurse practitioner and 2 social workers, participated in a live chat with approximately 250 patients with lupus who asked the panelists more than 65 questions. With the hospital’s social media expert acting as the moderator, the healthcare providers fielded questions according to their area of specialty, using laptops to type their responses back to the patients. The moderator used an iPad to continually refresh the chat’s page so that all questions were answered.
Although the doctors were initially concerned about giving advice that could potentially conflict with treatment recommendations from the patients’ own doctors, they eventually found that the relatively anonymous atmosphere of the chat gave patients the freedom to ask questions specific to their condition.
Ultimately, the doctors were able to help the patients understand that because lupus is a rheumatic disease, the condition needs to be managed by a rheumatologist. They found that the chat was a simple yet effective and efficient way to educate a large group of patients at once about lupus and the importance of having the disease managed by a rheumatologist. The Rheumatologist, December 2012