Social Media in Health Care: Patient People

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jockIf something hurts – Google it. Chances are you’ll fall over a forum of well-intentioned people with insight and advice. As the number of social media users and networks continues to grow, those looking for places to learn and share about health issues have a plethora of choices. While grassroot communities have their place, it is important to distinguish between provider-to-patient communities, patient-to-patient communities and a group of like-minded people talking about their health, offering support and sharing experiences.

“Patient” denotes involvement with a health care provider. Using social platforms to increase the impact a health care provider can have on a patient in terms of extending engagement beyond the on-site visit or phone call has potentially profound outcomes – such as activating positive and/or new behaviors in patients and helping them remain active and proactive in their own health care. Everyone wins. Patients heal faster. Providers succeed sooner. Improved health. Lower costs.

Here’s the rub though. There is a huge difference between open, unmonitored, social networks where people connect and talk about their health versus a provider-managed social platform that has been thoughtfully designed around extending the provision of health care through education, tools and community. The first is laudable, but with no efficacy and potentially dangerous side-effects — not to mention a myriad of issues around the lack
of privacy and anonymity. The second offers important health advantages but requires providers to step up and realize their very important role in creating provider-to-patient-to-patient communities through online social platforms.

There is nothing wrong with people conducting their own online health research or joining grassroot communities to share or learn more about their conditions. However, patients — in treatment — require the right tools, content and education, at the right time, and from the right people; and this is best served through their health care provider. They should have access to the best possible tools to help them manage their conditions and gain access to ongoing health “service” outside the walls of the health care provider – and they should do so with complete confidence of privacy, protection and anonymity.

This is the role of the private, secure, compliant, social health care platform. And this is the role of the provider…to provide. This approach to social health care platforms means that providers can create communities where patients with similar conditions can connect and encourage themselves and each other to become exponentially more effective in their health management; and their energy and attention is focused on getting results rather
than scouring the internet for information that may or may not be effective in their overall treatment.

Visionaries and trailblazers, such as West County Health Centers in California and Columbia Valley Health Center in Washington State, are already deploying social health care platforms in earnest to engage and enable their patient populations dealing with chronic illness and addictions. These deployments will become the blueprints around how to plan, prepare, deploy, maintain and measure the impact and outcomes of social platforms on patients.

Not too far in the future, provider-managed social platforms will be the norm rather than the exception. Pressures from federal IT regulations around increasing patient engagement, developments around health care reform that will radically increase pay-for-performance and the
need to measure outcomes will make the notion of health care social platforms a necessity versus a “nice to have”. And, equally important, will be patient pressure. Patients are people, but not patient people. If their providers do not offer extended health care through social platforms, ultimately they will go elsewhere.

Jock Putney is CEO of WellFX. For more information: visit

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