Electronic Health Records

Use & Optimization News

What is the role of social media in electronic health records?

By Jennifer Bresnick

- Physicians, lawmakers, and EHR developers alike are constantly looking for ways to improve the experience of using the software, engaging patients, and helping health IT take a central role in improving the quality and delivery of care.  Many of the discussions about how to make things better take place in social media venues like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and blogs: tools we use to communicate, share, and record our daily histories at a rate never before seen in human history.  With patients increasingly becoming involved in their own care, it’s no wonder that many experts are considering how to integrate familiar and intuitive social media concepts into the collection and use of electronic health record data.

While healthcare organizations have been using social media for marketing and branding purposes as long as any other business sector, they have been understandably reluctant to place tweets and Facebook posts on the same level of importance as what patients say in the consult room or exhibit during a physical examination.  But 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.  Shouldn’t physicians pay attention to this copious and potentially valuable set of data?

“It stands to reason that there are tremendous opportunities for hospitals to tap into social media tools in order to get patients to become more engaged in their care,” said Jared Rhoads, senior research specialist with CSC’s Global Institute for Emerging Healthcare Practices, to For the Record Magazine. “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. But this is also relatively uncharted territory, and so best practices have not been widely established.”

Many physicians like and enjoy using text messaging, Facebook, and professional networking sites to catch up on research or share their experiences, with a recent study indicating that a quarter of healthcare professionals do so daily.  But healthcare-specific social media sites like tibbr, designed to facilitate health information exchange (HIE) through a Facebook-like interface, haven’t fully penetrated the market quite yet.  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.

An additional major obstacle, of course, is patient privacy.  Providers would need to totally rethink how to collect and secure such data, and patients would need to be educated about what counts as protected personal health information (PHI) and what doesn’t.  “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,” explains Deborah Kohn, MPH, RHIA, FACHE, CPHIMS, principal of Dak Systems Consulting. “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.”

These issues might not seem to be of the utmost importance as providers wrestle with a variety of healthcare reform initiatives, including just getting their EHR software to accept normal input in a meaningful way, let alone tracking patients on Tumblr.  But as accountable care changes the way physicians get paid for their services, and the EHR Incentive Programs start to stress patient engagement and patient-provided data as part of their routine care, providers need to start thinking about using the Internet to gain an edge to boost their financial and quality outcomes.

As technology continues to take over our lives and becomes ever more important to our health, social media is going to become de rigueur in the office just as it has become a basic fact of life outside the clinic walls, and thinking about integration strategies now will give visionary providers a jump on the future.

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