What can Kim Kardashian do for mHealth?

Published in mHIMSS on 2/7/13 by Erick Wicklund

mhimssA recent story on mHIMSS.org detailed how Columbia Valley Community Health is using a social media platform developed by WellFx to reach out to and communicate with mothers-to-be.

Based in central Washington, CVCH serves a large population of immigrants, many of whom are underserved. Officials there hope the social media platform will helps hundreds of young, pregnant women each year who aren’t getting proper healthcare.

Not everyone agrees with that tactic. In comments attached to the story, someone named Mike called it “a waste of time.” “Social media is for Kim Kardashian and Kayne (sic),” he huffed. “This article is an embarrassment.”

Not so fast.

Granted, the medical world could care less what Kim or Kanye are eating or wearing, where they’re shopping or who they’re hanging out with, but there’s no denying that hundreds of thousands of people – millions, even – are interested. Heck, just the mention of Kim Kardashian or Kanye will probably make this the most-read story on mHIMSS.org for some time, thanks to that wonderful invention known as a search engine.

Imagine if those millions of readers were to latch onto an article that could improve their health? A story on exercise or diet tips, for instance, or information on the latest medical advances that might help them or a loved one. And never mind the Facebook pages dedicated to athletes or pop stars – what about those set up by support groups, offering people with rare medical conditions or chronic issues a chance to share information and encouragement with each other?

Social media is, by definition, social. And we are, inherently, a social species. We might not take notice of the latest Surgeon General’s report on the negative effects of obesity, but more often than not we’ll give it some thought if Oprah or Kobe or Madonna mention it on Twitter or Facebook.

Healthcare is definitely taking notice of social media. A recent article in the New York Times pointed out that “doctors are finding a role for (social media tools) in their medical practices.” One doctor occasionally communicates with patients via Facebook, while another uses Twitter to send along health messages.

The article cites two surveys as well. A 2011 survey published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine found that 94 percent of medical students, 79 percent of residents and 42 percent of practicing physicians reported some use of online social networks. And last May, Epocrates revealed that a survey of its physicians found that 82 percent were using social networks (like Doximity) to communicate with other physicians, while 8 percent were communicating with patients.

That last statistic is telling, and it’s the gist of the Times article. Doctors are using social media tools, but that doesn’t mean they’re all creating Facebook accounts and friending their patients. They’re selective in its use, mindful of the concerns of protecting patient privacy and separating professional and social relationships.

In Washington, Malcolm Butler, medical director of the four-clinic CVCH network, isn’t using Facebook or Twitter to share recipes with patients. He’s establishing a platform on which those patients can chat with each other, gain information screened by CVCH physicians, and perhaps make appointments that they would otherwise neglect. He wants them to care about their healthcare, and he’s using a platform that’s comfortable for them, and which they feel comfortable using.

Now if we can just get Kim Kardashian to care.

Published in mHIMSS on 2/7/13 by Erick Wicklund