Peter DeVries of the Department of Finance, Accounting, and CIS, at the University of Houston – Downtown, says there is likely to be a 124,000 shortfall of full-time physicians in the USA by 2025.   If Americans are going to continue to have adequate access to primary healthcare, this issue demands innovation in the healthcare industry, says Devries “Doctors and hospitals must find ways to provide healthcare in more productive and efficient ways,” he adds. “If a growing number of patients are finding themselves as users of Web 2.0, then Web 2.0 might be the answer to alleviate the forecasted overcrowding.”

Already 61% of Americans go online for health information.   Patients are using online tools such as the Wii Fit, SugarStats, mobile phone apps, and online health journals for improved health.   Patients and their caregivers are utilizing tools like RelayHealth, hellohealth, Healthcare Magic and Twitter to connect to their doctors.  Connections between people with the same health issues are being made on sites like EveryDayHealth, patientslikeme and Daily Strengths.

Social Media has the power to bring much of the information that is out there in databases, on websites and in doctor’s minds to the public.  It can help connect patients and their supporters and caregivers to researchers, and organizations with a mission to help them.

How is all this possible?  How can Social Media help alleviate a shortage of qualified doctors? 

Patients want more than just social media content they can follow.  They need real help! Here are just a few possibilities for the healthcare industry to use social media in order to save time, save money and improve patient care:

  • Assist patients in transversing the health care system, understanding who to contact, how to register, etc.
  • Assist patients in finding quality information more quickly
  • Provide follow up assistance to answer questions about prescriptions, combining medicines and general care once they leave their Doctor’s office
  • Use engagement opportunities to ensure patients understand the information they receive
  • Allow doctors, caregivers and patients to collaborate and coordinate services through additional engagement and interaction
  • Make the practical aspects of healthcare easier – payment, scheduling, reminders, referrals to specialists, paperwork, and support

While some Doctors are cautious about the use of social media with their patients, many are already utilizing social media via online physician communities to transfer knowledge.  Experts and analysts say patient demand for physicians to be using social media will only increase in the short term. “One of the greatest risks of social media is ignoring social media,” said Don Sinko, Chief Integrity Officer of Cleveland Clinic. “It’s out there, and people are using it (to discuss healthcare and the services you provide) whether you like it or not.”

Before starting any social media plan, it’s important to have a thorough strategy, which includes a defined target audience, clear objective & measurements for success.  The opportunities for the healthcare industry are endless when it comes to using social media.  The key to success will be a clear plan and commitment to implementation.

How is your healthcare business making the best use of social media?  We’d love to hear your ideas about this industry’s ‘next steps’ when it comes to social media!