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


Great post, Melissa. Attracting 10,000 folks to an all night online sleep disorder discussion is impressive! Keeping that community active by fostering interactivity on an ongoing basis is the rest of the story. It may be a new dimension for community relations to keep a community active and growing.
I think it would be a great help to have some of the medical records available online for later review, especially the after visit doctor summary. My mother has this with her health care provider and it has been very helpful to be able to go back and review this information to better understand it. Sometimes there is so much information given during a doctor appointment it all get a bit swirled. Would be nice to access these notes and be able to sit at home and process the information slowly.
Randy, great point. Many health organizations have begun making medical records available online, including Swedish. I think people are finding this very helpful. Thanks for the post.
Pete. Thanks for reading the post. I agree there is potential to keep the community alive beyond a single event. It's definitely a new dimension.
I think Swedish is doing a great job in pushing the frontiers of social media in health care. I particularly like the blogs you've initiated there, which are written by a number of different stakeholders in the Swedish health care ecosystem. I'm reminded of the way that Robert Scoble went around doing impromptu interviews with Microsoft developers for MSDN Channel 9, which helped to "humanize" the people, and thereby, the organization. I don't mean to draw a close analogy between Microsoft and Swedish, but I believe many organizations - especially large and potentially "faceless" ones - can benefit by being more open & transparent, and by offering more of a human face through their employees.I, for one, am always eager to learn more about the personal dimensions of prospective health care providers, and yet most web sites provide only professional dimensions (degrees, specialties, etc.). I am hopeful that social media - at Swedish and elsewhere - will offer an integrative approach through ...
Social Media is viewed by many old school companies as yet another marketing technique. I would much rather see you use this to focus on real needs in the community like those with chronic conditions instead of preference driven (Dartmouth Atlas) ortho procedures. Going forward it might be more authentic if you identified the needs of the community and used social media to engage and educate vs to "sell" high cost services like free standing ER' s in high income neighborhoods like Issaquah and Mill Creek and find ways to use social media to expand services into places like South Seattle.
Very interesting post. Writing from Buenos Aires and for years I'm in the management of communication for health centers. In our context it is important to ujna difference between what the patient s information collected in google and the physician's discretion. He advised a number of doctors who referred patients attend a consultation with a diagnosis made by internet and with a treatment that the physician must approve. I think the information helps and we are in a hyper connected world. The important thing is to remember the value of medical criteria and educate patients. My congratulations on a task that you do. Greetings from Argentina. Leandro Pavón Public Affairs & Institutional Relations Manager
Great recap, Melissa. Swedish is definitely an inspiration to the whole industry with the creative and effective things you are doing with social media. I particularly appreciated your point that with so many people seeking health info online today, healthcare providers have an opportunity to establish themselves as the reliable and trusted health resource in their community. And social media channels, in concert with other avenues of outreach, can be effective ways to deliver the kind of information healthcare consumers want and need.