Social Media Can Help with Home & Hospice Care

By Scott R. Herrmann, Procura Software

Since the inception of social media, access to global information from news sources, family and friends has become instantaneous. Facebook has become the #1 social media application in the world, followed closely by Google + and Twitter. Over 400 million people a day log into their Facebook account to see what is happening with their personal community in their network.

We could debate the general pros and cons of Facebook whose mission is to make the world more open and connected, but what if we took that connected community concept and applied it to home healthcare? Social media platforms open a plethora of opportunities to understand disease and further evolve communication about the current conditions of the patient to providers, caregivers and family.

One overlooked aspect of all our digital devices and conversations is security of patient information. I realized a few weeks ago that very good friends of mine were sharing information about the conditions of a family member who is in hospice care. Yes we all wanted to know what was happening, any improvements to health or declines, but I thought to myself how all of this texting can (as it was) be Ok with all of the HIPPA standards a hospice agency must follow. I really cannot find any information on if a family member decides to share information with friends and other family members, is that OK… since they are sharing that versus the registered agency caregiver. I guess it’s Ok but is a bit of a strange “loophole” to all that the agency must to do protect very similar patient information.

Back to social media versus “social texting”. In the retail world, social media plays an important promotional role as 14% of consumers trust advertisements while 78% would rather trust their peer recommendations. If we apply that type of sensitivity and logic to disease management, through social media I would be able to find information about my condition and connect with others in my network with similar conditions. As a patient, I may come across different, possibly even better, ways of managing my condition from what my personal care practioners have told me. Now from the comfort of my home I can connect with millions of people across the globe to see what others are doing to help themselves with their similar health condition.

In 2007, 38 million US adults used social media resources for health related purposes. Those resources were anything from You Tube, Facebook, Reddit to Flickr and many others. By 2010, that number reached 89 million US adults, and in 2012 over 100 million. Today one in five adults are online (using internet searches and social media sites) to find others with health concerns similar to their own. 93% of those claim that they found the medical information they wanted online. In 2011, the Pew Research Center wrote in “Chronic Disease and the Internet” that a person living with a chronic disease is more likely to share with their peers online what they know and learn about their disease and condition.

Health Information Exchanges are another level of communication, and are a way that information can be shared amongst the family and friends securely. We at Procura, partnered with a group to open these shared communication lines for patients, families and friends. With secure access and profiles, information can be shared so that only certain people see the detailed information about the patient’s current conditions, whereas others may only be able see schedules, pictures and “good news” updates. These types of exchanges can be managed and set up by the patient themselves, by a trusted partner or family member. It may be the easiest way for the healthcare “world” to get a leg up on the interoperability of systems that everyone is striving for, but cannot make it happen due to the many different platforms that hold patient information. These health info exchanges would also be a better way than my friend’s texting each other too!

Patients who are well connected versus isolated in their health management recover faster. Faster recovery lowers the cost of care. Isn’t that what we are all striving for? Plus it is also a well know fact that the isolated patient becomes depressed more easily than a well connected patient with the ability to communicate with those in their circle of care.

Home care and hospice agencies who wish to be truly client-centric will use social media to their advantage with their clients. To further community education opportunities, agencies may want to consider setting up a workshop to explain how social media and health information exchanges can benefit those who want to help manage their care, or at least be in the loop with “current conditions of themselves”. This also opens up a new way to market and differentiate your agency, which may be a key to gain future patients or even endearing the agency to the community they serve.

The other side of “liking” or “listening” to peers means that if your agency is not using Facebook it is possible that you could be losing out on business because of that lack of presence. The same can hold true for Twitter; the easiest of social media applications to use. Your agency could be putting out useful news stories that are health related “tweets” such as healthy meal planning, ways to stay active without leaving the home, or advice of a physical and a psychological nature that help clients looking to become healthier or recover from some mishap.

Social media has seen an explosive beginning and continues to move and evolve in many different directions. With the social media evolution, there comes scepticism from the late adapters. The focus is not about overcoming fear, but rather embracing the social media opportunity. It opens up a new path to staying connected with others who have similar healthcare issues. Once the apprehension of technology and change is quelled, what you have is an opportunity for education and communication about healthcare conditions, and advancements in care. Trust me, the evolution of social media will continue; it is here and is not going away, I think it’s time for you and your agency to join the social media revolution.

This article was originally published in Home Care Technology Reports by Tim Rowan-May 2013.  Scott Herrman will be presenting at HCAF’s Annual Conference & Trade Show on Tuesday, July 23. Don’t miss his session titled “Maximize the Impact of mHealth Technologies.”  Mobile health technologies can transcend the boundaries of health care delivery limitations, and fill gaps in health care services as demands increase. An aging population and overstrained health care resources are realities we face in the coming years. Innovative thinking that leverages mHealth technologies can transform the way home health and hospice services are delivered.   

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