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Patients, your doctors will e-mail you now -- but Twitter?

August 13, 2009 |  4:51 pm

Keyboard That might be wishful thinking. But, even so, we'll take what progress we can find when it comes to ease of communication between doctor and patient. In this case, signs of progress come in a survey released this week by Thomson Reuters. It found that among Americans with Internet access, 12% have communicated online with their doctor's office.

Not huge numbers, no, but good news for anyone who's had to wait on hold for what seems like hours only to contend with cranky office staff. (Cranky with good reason, probably, but still. It isn't as if we called up happily symptom-free to inquire about the weather.) 

We've got people younger than 35 -- and people in households pulling in more than $150,000 a year -- to thank for pushing their vision of a bold new medical world. They're driving this easier-doctor-patient communication thing.

The report holds out hope for even greater movement, noting: "The higher use of online patient-physician communications by young adults suggests this trend will become more pronounced. Another factor that could drive the trend: Some innovative insurers are experimenting with benefit plans that compensate physicians for this service."

Ah, yes, that whole compensation business.

Here's a recent L.A. Times account of one doctor who went online and never looked back.

"The doctor is in and logged on," by Kaiser Permanente physician Rahul Parikh begins: "Wow. I've just taken care of three patients in 12 minutes, and I didn't do it by 'churning' them through my office as if it's some sort of factory assembly line. Rather, those patients (their parents, more specifically -- I'm a pediatrician), e-mailed me over a secure network with questions and descriptions of signs and symptoms."

Surely, the next step -- you would think -- would have to be Twitter.

Here's what blogger KevinMD has to say: "More doctors are using Twitter to connect both with patients and other medical professionals. Some hospitals have 'live-Tweeted' surgery, to great fanfare, allowing the public a peek into the operating room and giving them an opportunity to ask the surgeons questions mid-procedure. Other doctors use Twitter to communicate with patients. Generally not to give medical advice, but to guide the public to reputable sources of information, or share breaking medical news. ... Finally, Twitter offers an invaluable opportunity for doctors to ask questions of other medical providers. Given the real-time nature of Twitter, opinions and answers to clinical issues can be obtained immediately."

Again, progress.

-- Tami Dennis

Photo: Los Angeles Times

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Comments (4)

This sounds like a novel, resource-sparing idea; however, there are significant barriers to converting from a paper/chart-based healthcare system to an electronic system. Financing is the largest, but others include adoption of common terminology (Kaiser's system works, but is still difficult to effectively utilize because there are many inconsistencies in documentation), human factors such as data entry, and inequity in provider systems. If these barriers can be overcome, however, this move would end up saving our healthcare system valuable time and money, which equates to better patient outcomes and overall safety. Our National Health Information Infrastructure has a goal of nationalized electronic health records by 2014; this is estimated to save US health care $81 billion annually and vastly improve quality of care. The direction we are headed is a positive one for our system, but it will take more than we realize to put it in place.

Maybe twitter ISN'T inappropriate for you.

Very innovative indeed. Being able to make use of technology in order to better the lives we live, no matter what aspect is always a good thing.

The availability and willingness of the medical community to use IT to communicate with their patients will greatly benefit both the system and the patients.

In the end, it will really depend on how well the physicians will be able to decipher what should and shouldn't be relayed over public communication mediums like twitter.

The possibilities are endless. I'm not a healthcare physician and my mind is reeling with the many positivies of this more open communication & more accessibility to healthcare physicians. This form of open, transparent communication might also help to lower healthcare cost some time down the road. Only time will tell.

Thanks for the article.


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