Slowly but surely, social media is creeping into the health care industrys vocabulary. Generally speaking, providers have been squeamish about utilizing social media for a number of reasons, with privacy and public relations concerns being two of the most prominent gripes. Despite social medias reputation as a double-edged sword, its influence is becoming increasingly apparent throughout the industry, but primarily with software products for now. With information exchange and patient interaction being more important than ever under Stage 2 of the electronic health records meaningful use program, its no surprise that software is taking design cues from social media.
Practice Fusion, a web-based EHR vendor is excellent example of social medias influence on health care. Funded by venture capital, all online, free to use, ad-supported, and wrapped up in a slick multiplatform user interface, Practice Fusion has more in common with Facebook than it does with Epic. The similarity comes as no surprise to industry expert Vince Ciotti. An EHR that looks like YouTube or Facebook will be more comfortable to 99.9 percent of users. Practice Fusions social media flavor extends beyond the window dressing as well. The EHRs biggest selling point (beyond being free) is its emphasis on sharing information. For providers, they focused on making the transfer of records and information between doctors as convenient as possible.
Social media has had a similar impact on the patient side of the equation as well. ZocDoc and Practice Fusions own competing service Patient Fusion enable patients to post and read reviews for doctors and check schedules before making appointments. Anyone looking up a restaurant on Yelp or searching for a hotel on Trip Advisor can see the similarities.
Mobile capability is another new design trend making the jump from social media to both patient and provider software. Not only do all the previously mentioned platforms have mobile apps available, but other software is being designed with mobile in mind. Kareo, another popular online EHR, promotes its mobile centric design as one of its major selling points. With smartphones and tablets as ubiquitous as they are, mobile friendly software is a logical step for EHRs.
Alas, convenience and accessibility are not all that comes from the social media mindset; it also presets new privacy and security risks for an industry which takes those issues very seriously. User data is everything for social media platforms. Being able to collate, quantify and sell user data is the most prevalent business model in that field, which is something that does not translate well to health care. In fact, there have already been some ethical concerns about Practice Fusions targeted ads, which make use of anonymized patient information. Though the patient privacy versus data mining/advertising issue can certainly come in a few shades of ethical gray, Ciotti feels that Its life today, data mining and that may be a reality of living in an online world, like it or not.
Though the nature of the health care industry may hamper an enthusiastic adoption of mainstream social media platforms as tools, it does not mean that stakeholders are not learning from the platforms as they build their own.
Harry MacCormack is a writer for SourceMedia.
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