If you think the only way to improve the healthcare industry is through better doctors, better hospitals, innovative drugs, and better medical technology, think again. Better communication is a vital part of the prescription for better health, and emerging communication technology can make a significant difference in the way that care is provided and in the roles that patients, practitioners and the community play to help us live longer, healthier lives.
Programs such as Loyola’s emerging media program, in which students learn from faculty and study a curriculum that allow them to harness the power of emerging media, can help students master communication strategies that will improve the population health and health outcomes. Here are five ways emerging media is revolutionizing the field.
1. Informing and Empowering Patients
More than ever before, today’s patients are equipped, enabled, empowered, and engaged when it comes to their health and healthcare decisions. Tom Ferguson, the pioneering physician who led a movement to promote informed patients managing their health in collaboration with their physicians, called these individuals e-patients.
The idea is that in place of the traditional hierarchy of the doctor-patient relationship, patients and practitioners act as full partners in their health care decisions. Instrumental to this change is the ability for patients to research, gather information, and bring their knowledge and questions to a dialog with their providers.
Using sites like WebMD to research medications, visiting condition-specific sites to learn more about particular diseases, or looking up non-prescription remedies for mild ailments puts power back into patients’ hands and allows them to begin taking charge of their own health. In fact, one in three U.S. adults have used the web to research a medical issue.1
For this new relationship to work, however, the information patients seek must be accessible, appropriate, accurate and understandable. And that takes work and training from the organizations and practitioners providing the information, as well as from the patients relying on it.
2. Bringing Info to the Point of Care
Until recently, doctors could only make decisions based on the patient’s current condition, information the patient told them, and any medical records their office might have. So much information has been missing from the conversation.
But with improved technology and emerging media, we’re moving toward a world in which providers can make decisions in real time using healthcare data analytics—data brought from different sources right to where they are providing care—including info like this:
- Medical history, including past conditions, treatments, and outcomes, whether it happened in that doctor’s office, the local hospital, or an ER you visited during your last cross-country vacation
- Risk score, a mathematical computation that can help predict whether and to what extent a patient is at risk for certain conditions, which allows the patient and doctor to take preventative measures
- Testing data, such as an analysis of which tests may be unnecessary and which are covered under the patient’s insurer, to help avoid duplication and reduce costs
- Eligibility for resources and programs provided by federal, state, and healthcare organizations to improve patient health
For providers, it means having the best data available to help them make the best possible decisions. For health systems, it means better quality performance, regulatory compliance, and potentially reducing costs. And for patients, it means getting better quality care.
3. Reaching At-Risk Populations
The term “at-risk” refers to people who frequently use healthcare services (eg. patients with multiple conditions), people who engage in risky behaviors (eg. tobacco use, violence) and those in vulnerable populations (eg. homeless, low income).
People in all of these groups have a great need for medical attention, but don’t always have the means to acquire it. Ideally, practitioners would be able to engage with at-risk patients over the long term to adjust behavior and reduce risk, without the care costing too much or requiring too much time from practitioners. This is where emerging media can help.
An mHealth intervention is an initiative in which healthcare providers can use mobile devices, particularly cell phones, to reach at-risk populations and help improve their health. A full 95% of such patients have an SMS-capable cell phone, and 90% are actively interested in tech-based platform to improve their health.4
A basic form of mHealth is to use SMS (texting) to share information and encourage patients to change high-risk behaviors. The program cost is low, nearly every patient can receive text messages, and it’s not technologically complicated either. Successful programs have already helped people quit smoking, adhere to their medications, and keep their doctors’ appointments.
4. Improving Communications In Emergencies
Every hospital and health system has a communications plan in place in case of crisis or emergency; increasingly, these strategic communication plans are incorporating the use of social media. In fact, 40% of hospitals use social media for crisis communications, and those who do have been proving its worth.2
For example, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, had included Twitter and Facebook into its crisis communication plan prior to Boston Marathon bombing of April 15, 2013. While monitoring Twitter just after the bombing, the hospital discovered two false rumors circulating: that the hospital was in lockdown and that the surviving bombing suspect was being brought there. They were able to set the record straight, thanks to their use of social media.
And at Atlantic Health System in Morristown, N.J., social media also plays a role in the organization's emergency response communication. But after Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the organization also decided to install a cloud-based email backup system and deployed mobile telecommuting devices for its staff.
5. Creating Community and Deepening Patient-Provider Relationships
Healthcare organizations and individual medial professionals are using social media as a tool not only to convey factual health information and news, but also to form real connections, display empathy, and provide comfort to their patient communities.
While connecting with patients has its benefits, practitioners need to be careful about dispensing medical advice online (if a patient asks, they typically recommend they make an appointment) or accidentally revealing details of a patient’s health condition (a clear violation of HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). Many organizations discourage practitioners from connecting with patients via social media, and a 2011 survey published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine confirms that 58% of doctors always reject such online requests.3
Professionally, providers can also use social media to connect to a community of other providers. For example, the site Doximity is like Facebook for physicians. It’s a place that makes it safe and easy to consult specialists for cases they need assistance with.
And for patients, social media can be a great place to connect with other patients like themselves. They can compare experiences, share advice, discuss medications, and find people—outside of their circle of family members and loved ones—who can listen and support them through their health struggles.
Improving the health of individuals and communities is a complex problem. Communications professionals trained in the application of emerging media technologies can play a critical role in the process and have a significant, measurable impact on health outcomes.
- Pew Research Center Internet & American Life Project Report, 2013
- 2013 Most Wired survey by Hospitals & Health Networks
- Bosslet, Gabriel T. et al. “The Patient–Doctor Relationship and Online Social Networks: Results of a National Survey.” Journal of General Internal Medicine26.10 (2011): 1168–1174. PMC. Web. 7 Oct. 2017.
- Ranney, Choo, et al Annals of EM 2012
- Improving the Health of High Risk Populations with Mobile Technology, The Physician Community, July 17, 2014