Just as the Internet's social networks have changed the way people communicate - a case in point is how Facebook helped Egyptian protesters to organize their historic demonstrations - social media also are changing the way doctors' offices operate and the way patients communicate with their doctors.
What if you could use your cell phone to go online and make your medical appointments, request prescription refills or ask your doctor a question? Or, if you could retrieve your medical records wherever you had Internet access? What if an emergency room doctor could instantly see your health records, the medications you are taking and communicate with your doctor? It could save time, and maybe even your life. This is how social media and technology are changing the way medicine is practiced.
Dr. Jeff Livingston's practice, MacArthur Ob/Gyn in Irving, Texas, does all of this. "It has just revolutionized the way we do healthcare," he said.
Livingston and his colleagues use social media and password-protected software to share medical information with their patients. "We provide the patient full access to their medical care. Anything I can see, the patient can see. All of their notes, all of their doctor visits are right there. All of their lab work is right there."
Patients can communicate privately with their doctors on the practice's web site through a secure connection or "portal" - and they can get information or join forums on the practice's social media sites.
"We want to engage our patients in their healthcare," said Livingston. "So our practice has a Facebook page. It has a MySpace page. We have a Twitter feed. We have thousands of people who follow us through all this media. And what we found is that the patients really love that."
Kristi Francisco said she likes being able to log on and get the results of her medical tests. "This way I could get right into the practice portal and see, yes, everything’s fine and I don’t have to worry about things and just go on with my day and get on with my life."
Francisco said the software allows her doctor to electronically send her prescriptions to a pharmacy. That way, her medications are ready for pickup by the time she arrives. "I’m spoiled now."
MacArthur Ob/Gyn uses software developed by Sage Healthcare. The manufacturer said the software is secure and password-protected, and that confidential information stays confidential.
Livingston said the software also has increased office efficiency and cut costs by eliminating time-consuming practices and duplicative testing.
Another benefit of using the software and social media, he said, is that doctor-patient relationships have improved. Patients no longer have to rely solely on Internet searches to get medical information. They can find the answers they need directly from their own trusted doctor.