Can you blog or tweet your way to good health?

April 22, 2011

When you think of social media, what comes to mind? For many people, it might be keeping up with friends and family on Facebook or watching a viral video on YouTube. But have you ever thought of social media as a resource for your health?

For two years, Swedish has been exploring that very question. We’ve been testing the waters of social media to see how new modes of online communication can help us better serve our patients and the community.

So far, we like what we see and believe there’s great potential. Our physicians have used new tools, such as streaming video and online chats, to host virtual conversations about various health topics. We’re also learning that this is a whole new way to make our medical experts more accessible and approachable by creating forums where people can more easily tap into their knowledge and experience.

Last summer, for example, our sleep-medicine physicians hosted a webcast in the middle of the night – all night long. They talked about sleep issues, answered questions via Twitter and demonstrated a sleep-apnea study in action.

What blew us away? More than 10,000 people joined us online to talk with the physicians. Many were on the computer late at night because they couldn’t sleep and struggle with sleep problems on a regular basis. They wanted to know more about conditions like sleep apnea and insomnia or simple snoring problems, and were eager for the opportunity to talk to an expert about it. We felt we struck a chord that night and made a real connection with people suffering from sleep issues.

We’ve also hosted virtual conversations on other topics, including:

Swedish isn’t alone in exploring digital communications, though. Health organizations across the country are using social media to educate and engage with patients. Why? To answer that, let’s ask another question.

What’s the first thing people do when they have a health concern? They Google it.

With more than 80 percent of Internet users searching for health information online, many health-care providers are realizing that they can have an impact by being a credible health resource on the Web.

Last week, several health-care organizations gathered in Seattle to share how they’re using the Web and social media to better serve patients. Swedish hosted the conference in conjunction with Chicago-based Ragan Communications.

The conference featured speakers from Mayo Clinic, MD Anderson, Children’s Boston, Kaiser Permanente and the American Red Cross to name a few. It also featured an inspiring keynote presentation by Wendy Sue Swanson, M.D., a pediatrician with Seattle Children’s who blogs under the pen name Seattle Mama Doc.

Dr. Swanson urged physicians to become more engaged in social media, saying she believes physicians have an obligation to share their knowledge and opinions online to help combat misinformation floating around the Web.

Given that many physicians can't spend as much time in the exam room with patients as they would like, they need to look for other opportunities to educate their patients and the public. Social media is one way to do that, Dr. Swanson says.

(Dr. Swanson was also a keynote at Swedish’s 100th anniversary symposium last fall. Watch her Swedish 100 talk here.)

The conference closed with a rousing talk by Dave DeBronkart, who goes by the moniker ePatient Dave. He encourages patients to educate themselves by participating in online patient communities and using the Internet to research their conditions, so they can be advocates for themselves when facing chronic conditions or undergoing hospitalizations or treatments.

To hear ePatient’s Dave powerful message in his own words:

Watch a talk he did at TEDxMasstricht.
• You can also view his presentation from the Swedish 100 conference.

 

Check out these recaps of last week’s Swedish Ragan conference:

Recapping the buzz from Swedish Ragan
The Power of Twitter to Share, Educate, Connect
Hospitals Like Social Media
Five Things I learned at the Swedish Ragan Conference

 

Tell us what you think

What do you think of health-care organizations becoming more involved online and in social media? How likely are you to watch a webcast or participate in an online chat about a health topic of interest to you? Do you have ideas for how health-care providers like Swedish can be a better resource for people seeking health information online? We’d love to hear what you think and hope you’ll share your thoughts on this topic.

Topics: Audiology