Social Media

Social media is all the rage these days—and that goes for Facebook (with 1.5 billion active users), Twitter (with 200 million), LinkedIn (with 238 million), and Pinterest (with 70 million). And these numbers are increasing steadily. Take Facebook, for example. The 1.5 million active users I referenced above is 23% more than the number of active users the company had in early 2012. That’s enormous growth in just a year. According to Zephoria, this should quell any lingering doubts you may still have about the The Social Network because—statistically speaking—“Facebook is too big to ignore.” And as far as we’re concerned, so are the rest.

Hopefully, you’re tapping into the magic that is social media to enhance your marketing efforts, but that discussion is for another time and place (cough, the WebPT blog). Here, let’s talk about electronic medical records (EMRs) and social media. After all, EMRs are all the rage these days, too.


Want some proof about the prowess of EMR? According to this USA Today article, in 2008, only 9% of hospitals and 17% of physicians used electronic medical/health records. Today, more than 80% of hospitals and 50% of physician offices that contract with Medicare or Medicaid will transition by the end of this year. Physical therapy EMR adoption is up as well—just ask the APTA. Why the increase? Well, in addition to the government incentivizing physicians’ offices and hospitals that make the switch, there are also countless benefits for both the practitioner and the patient. Oh, plus pen and paper are so last decade.

Social Media + EMR

Now that we’ve talked about social media and EMRs individually, let’s talk about them together. Today, people are sending more than 400 million tweets and posting more than 55 million Facebook status updates every day. You read that right: every day. That’s a ton of information. So how does that relate to health care—and more specifically, to EMR? Well, back in 2009, health care was the eighth most popular Facebook status trend out of all potential possibilities. Additionally, according to Jennifer Bresnick, author of an EHR Intelligence article about the role of social media in electronic health records, “millions of people share the intimate details of their lives with their network of friends and acquaintances. They might complain of feeling nauseous after taking a new medication on Twitter, but not think it’s worth calling their doctor about, or post a picture of their swollen ankle after a fall without realizing they should be seeking medical attention for a sprain.”


Looking for more evidence of the overlap? Check out this article written by WebPT’s very own Senior Writer, Charlotte Bohnett. In it, she cites a PwC study that found 41% of people surveyed would allow social media sites to influence their choice of a specific medical professional or facility. That’s huge. So it’s no wonder that medical professionals are becoming more and more interested in the conversations happening on social media. This Healthcare Technology Online article quotes Jared Rhoads, senior research specialist with CSC’s Global Institute for Emerging Healthcare Practices, who says, “It stands to reason that there are tremendous opportunities for [medical professionals] to tap into social media tools in order to get patients to become more engaged in their care. Information and data that are obtained or generated as a result of these interactions have a valid place in the patient record—as valid as nearly any other self-reported piece of information.”

In the same article, John Edwards, a PwC spokesman, said that “hospitals are using social media, and they are not limiting their imaginations to just marketing and listening to people’s feedback about the company; they are starting to think about how to use social media for services and other aspects of their business.” Shouldn’t you be, too?


Rhoads cautions, though, “this is also relatively uncharted territory, and so best practices have not been widely established.” That may be part of the reason why, according to Bresnick in the EHR Intelligence article I cited above, standalone healthcare-centric networking sites, like tibbr, which is designed to facilitate health information exchange through a “Facebook-like interface,” haven’t taken off yet. Bresnick believes that “the business case for truly integrating patient information gleaned from social media hasn’t yet been convincingly made, nor have developers and big data specialists figured out how to separate the wheat from the chaff when combing through Instragram updates.”

Another potential obstacle to consider? Patient privacy. If healthcare organizations, practices, and facilities begin to rethink the use of social media tools to enhance the patient care experience or add additional context to a patient’s medical record, a new breed of security measures will become necessary. In the same article, Bresnick quotes Deborah Kohn, MPH, RHIA, FACHE, CPHIMS, principal of Dak Systems Consulting: “Every tweet, blog comment, text message, and wall entry you and/or your organization colleagues upload or receive is a piece of content that, theoretically, should be reviewed and managed to ensure control, decorum and, perhaps, regulatory and records compliance. For example, an individual social network status update or a tweet might not rise to the level of a record, but a protracted discussion on a particular topic over a given period on someone’s wall or via Twitter might qualify.”

The Future

So what might EMRs look like in the not-so-distant future? According to Missy Krasner, product marketing manager of the short-lived, before-its-time Google Health, “They [won’t] just say: ‘we want to structure your data’; now [they’ll say:] ‘we want to connect you with other people who have your same illness, if you’re comfortable with that.’” In other words, an integrated EMR with a patient portal that allows individuals to collaborate with their healthcare providers and their peers may be just what the healthcare community needs to increase access and quality of patient care.

What do you think? Does social media have a place in modern health care? How do you see it being integrated with electronic medical records? Tell us in the comments below.