The Patient “Power” of Health Care Social Media (“HCSM”)

In my Humble Opinion, I think authentic Patient participation in “Health Care Social Media” (“HCSM”) will CHANGE the Status Quo of the Oil-Cartel-like practices employed by some Health Insurers which are causing Gross Inefficiencies in our Health Care System such that prices are inflated, the quality of services rendered are either rushed or diluted and access to quality healthcare is therefore limited.  Medical Professionals and Hospitals can’t fight Health Insurers on this because that would mean biting the hand that feeds them as, for the most part; Health Insurers control every payment for goods and services rendered by them.  But, Patients inherently yield a power independent of Health Insurers such that if they join together they will have more power than the Health Insurers because without Patients there is no revenue of any kind.  However, up until now, there has been no organized “movement” for Patients to consolidate, recognize and exercise this power.  But, now they have HCSM, which is a Patient-Driven “Medium” comprised of the seemingly unlimited Social Media Platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Podcasting, Blogging, Vlogging, Virtual Patient Communities, Yahoo/Google Groups and Healthcare Portal Websites such as WEGO Health, Web MD, Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media and Discovery Health.

The Limitations faced by Medical Professionals on the Web

Up until now, the general public was under the WRONG assumption that any Web Healthcare Initiative must have some Healthcare Clinicians or Medical Professionals attached to it for it to be successful or even noteworthy but that is just incorrect (just read about the demise of “Google Health” as they had to learn this lesson most recently) as these well-intended medical professionals are severely limited in what they can do on the Web.  More specifically, they cannot interact with individual Patients in any meaningful manner on the Web; regardless of how well-intended they are, because they are constrained by the Legal, Licensure and Ethical issues understandably mandated by their respective Licensing Boards/Organizations such that they won’t anytime soon be disseminating Individual Patient Advice on the Web as the risk to their careers and personal reputations is too great.  That said, there are some cutting-edge Medical Licensing Boards which are trying to keep up with the dynamic nature of HCSM but new social media platforms are being used for Healthcare purposes every day which make it impossible for medical professionals to keep current and gauge the firmness of their footing when they seek to go where Patients are going when they are desperate and seeking information and answers.  Sure, they can always participate with general wellness articles regarding practice specialty issues of interest to Patients or even with general industry marketing information, etc. but they are as far away from the real, or meaningful, action on the Web and HCSM as Fans are from playing in an NFL Game as they sit at an NFL Football Game and watch the explosiveness of a Kickoff Return.  Medical Professionals are merely spectators watching Patients form a bond in HCSM that is NOW the new power-base of Healthcare.

The Lack of Limitations for Patients on the Web

So, why do Patients NOW have the advantage and the Power?  Just like how Consumers have come to trust the Web for Banking, Patients all over the world are now getting more comfortable by the minute sharing their healthcare information and experiences with others via the different HCSM platforms. What sets Patients apart from the aforementioned well-intentioned medical professionals is that their information and experiences are constrained on the WEB ONLY by their own respective sense of “Privacy,” whether that is keeping some information private from their workplace or not sharing certain experiences due to a sense of embarrassment.  However, Patients in need of information or experiences pertaining to, for example, “Medication Side Effects,” who wind up getting that Answer through HCSM, when no Doctor or Google Search was able to uncover it, seem more apt in the future to “get over” the possible embarrassing or workplace awareness issues of the “means” (i.e., HCSM) for the “benefit” (i.e., the Answer which is also a part of the “ends”) of the “ends” (i.e., possible vulnerability from a Privacy perspective but also the Answer/Information).  Thus, in a classic case of the Ends justifying the Means, I see more and more “Credible Patients” within these HCSM Platforms just like Banks and Vendors are witnessing more Consumers conducting their Banking and Bill-Paying via the Web every month.

Using HCSM as a Technology-Powered Grassroots Campaign of Change

As a result, HCSM provides Patients with an unprecedented opportunity to consolidate their brethren of fellow Patients and create a Technology-powered “Grass-Roots” Campaign to help each other.  Let’s face it, almost all societal change has been initiated through some type of Grass-Roots Campaign except NOW that type of “Change-Seeking Organized Movement” is powered by Technology (i.e., Social Media) and the results have been extraordinary.  Just ask the citizens of Egypt.  If a Technology-powered Grass-Roots Campaign can overpower a long-standing United States-backed Dictatorship, it is not a stretch to envision Patients getting organized and accomplished through HCSM, especially when medical professionals are powerless to influence the insulated world of HCSM, no matter how things look on the outside in terms of the participation of medical professionals in HCSM.  I am witnessing this happening unintentionally whereby Patients are creating almost instantaneous Databases of information and experiences which similarly-affected Patients are utilizing to create Virtual Patient Communities comprised of people who share the same Diseases, Medications, Side Effects, Treatments, etc.  These Databases are enhanced by the real-time conversations afforded by such HCSM Tools as “Tweet Chats” and “Tweetups.”  (FYI – “Tweet Chats” are online conversations, typically held at a pre-arranged time, between a group of Twitter users, and using a specific Twitter “Hashtag” to identify the discussion. A “Tweetup” is an event where people who use Twitter and Tweet Chats come together to meet in person.)

Summary:  Patients utilization of HCSM to help Each Other is THE Healthcare Efficiency “Game-Changer”

In summary, the result of Patients helping other Patients through HCSM simply by sharing information and experiences will create more “Informed Patients” so that when they interact with their real-life medical professionals those “transactions” are more Cost- and Time- “Efficient” which in turn will incentivize Medical Professionals and Hospitals to encourage Patients and their HCSM efforts.  Then, soon thereafter, Patients, Medical Professionals and Hospitals will join forces and use their respective influences to put an end to the Gross Inefficiencies presently prevailing in our Heath Care System due to the Oil Cartel-like practices of some Health Insurers.  But the engine driving this Change STARTS with Patients participating in HCSM in a meaningful manner so that they are Credible similar to Banking on the Web actually working as promised for those First Adopters.  This is why Patients are NOW the Most Valuable Resource in Healthcare and their utilization of HCSM to help each other is THE efficiency “Game-Changer” we have been waiting for.  The resulting Cost and Time Efficiencies will stabilize Price, increase the quality of Service and then Access to Healthcare will be dramatically enhanced so that more people will be able to afford Healthcare and the services they receive will be of a much higher quality than they are today. Win, Win.