Social media and the business of health care



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Teri Bernstein, MBA, CPA has been teaching full time in the Business Department of Santa Monica College since 1985.  Prior to that, she worked in Internal Audit and Special Financial Projects for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, CBS, Inc., and Coopers & Lybrand (which is now part of PricewaterhouseCoopers).  She attended the University of Michigan and Wayne State University.

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Social media usage has affected all types of businesses--including health care. Chris Foster, of Booz Allen Hamilton, writes in Government Health IT News about 3 ways in which social media are influencing the business of providing health care to patients:

  • Patient empowerment: access to information to diseases on the internet, as well as treatment options help patients feel more informed.  Also, many use social media to access personal support as they navigate actual treatments.  One website,  is set up to be a social media clearinghouse for information. 
  • Real time information and instantaneous feedback: Doctors now tweet step-by-step instructions and information during surgeries, getting and giving support that could not be possible without social media.  Also, Foster's company has developed a program to treat psychological problems that arise in battlefield situations, 24/7.
  • Improved doctor/patient relationships: Doctors who are willing to connect with patients get and give more accurate information, on a more timely basis, and establish better long term relationships.
A strep throat story by April Sage illustrates all three of these points, from a personal perspective. One of her points is that social media can return health care to the more personal level of a house-call-making general practitioner.
On a more global level, social media have been used successfully to track a cholera epidemic in Haiti, reports Katherine Rowland in Nature, an International Weekly Journal of Science. Challenges exist in terms of information accuracy, but timeliness of reporting can mean quicker containment of disease outbreaks, and lower costs associated with disease management.
This could mean lower health care costs for businesses providing health care benefits for their employees.  Improved value at a lower cost is a promise of using social media in health care, once all the information technology bugs get worked out in terms of privacy and IT competence. 

Follow up
  • How have you used the internet to solve a personal health care problem? Have you used social media as well? Do any of your health care providers actively use social media, as described in April Sage's piece, linked above?
  • How can social media be used to reduce health care costs?

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