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How patients use social media to foster support systems, connect with physicians

A recent San Francisco Chronicle story highlights the increasing popularity among patients with serious or chronic medical conditions in using Facebook, Twitter and blogs to stay connected to their support system and interact with health-care providers. Teresa Bell-Stephens, a nurse at Stanford Hospital & Clinics, comments in the article about her experiences with the hospital's clinic groups on Facebook:

At Stanford University Medical Center, doctors and nurses have started Facebook groups to connect their patients to others with the same medical challenges - everything from bariatric surgery to a rare neurological condition called moyamoya. Increasingly, doctors are using social media to communicate daily with patients (see accompanying story).

Teresa Bell-Stephens, the nurse who started the moyamoya Facebook page, said she's "seen a huge difference in morale" in the patients who have joined the online group. She added that when patients check in for treatment, the hospital tries to provide laptops to those who don't have their own to help them stay in touch.

Later on in the article, Lucile Packard Children's Hospital pediatrician Alan Greene, MD, offers his perspective on the emerging role of online communication in the doctor-patient relationship:

Facebook and Twitter have become the virtual places where people get the latest headlines and connect with friends and family. Dr. Alan Greene, a pediatrician at Stanford's Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, wants them to be places where people connect with their doctors, too.

Greene, who has had a website since 1995, now takes time between seeing patients to send out tweets and Twitter direct messages (about 10 daily) and respond to Facebook questions (about 20 daily) from patients and parents.

"Facebook and Twitter are where conversations are happening, and where decisions are being made," Greene said. "Many people spend more time with their social media than with their e-mail."

Previously: How health-care providers are using social media to build connections with patients, Physician urges colleagues to think twice before they tweet and How to respond to patient contact on Twitter: A physician's advice

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