Using Facebook, Twitter and other social media to change health care

Ten years on, Ian Morrison’s “Hamster Health Care: Time to Stop Running Faster and Redesign Health Care” is still eminently applicable.

In his words:

Across the globe doctors are miserable because they feel like hamsters on a treadmill. They must run faster just to stand still. In … the managed care systems in the United States doctors feel that they have to see more patients to maintain their incomes. But systems that depend on everybody running faster are not sustainable. The answer must be to redesign health care.

Looking at the fallout over the Affordable Care Act, it’s hard not to think that perhaps the system is just too complex and too entrenched to redesign from the top down. The opposite would be organic change from within the industry, patient driven and participatory, from the bottom up.

A strong candidate for bottom-up change is the application of social media to health care. It’s at least worth considering that, appropriately utilized, social media could do something for the doctor-patient relationship akin to what Facebook and Twitter is doing for family, friends, and business relations all over the world.

Ten years ago, Morrison was on to this:

Solutions to hamster health care will come from getting off the wheel, not running faster. Doctors need to redesign their work to meet their patients’ needs within the economic constraints … That means using information technology creatively (particularly the internet) to communicate with patients and manage the process of patient care as part of a fundamental redesign of clinical practice.

I think it’s fair to say that Morrison would heartily endorse doctors using social media to more directly mediate their expertise to patients in a consistent, timely, and cost efficient manner.

I don’t presume to know how, but I have a good idea of what the first step may be: start using. Many physicians and medical students that I know have not yet begun to wade into the Twitter waters or explore blogging. These tools must be engaged with before they are applied. I think there’s reason to believe that the very act of engagement will stimulate ideas for implementation. If big changes in health care are going to be bottom-up, and these social media tools are truly useful, then simple exposure to physicians on the ground may likely instigate much progress.

I’m not saying that doctors should just dive in to applying social media to their practices. I’m simply advocating they set up an account and start poking around. Start following some fellow docs, reading some blogs, and considering setting off with a blog of their own.

The trouble is that damned wheel. Even my medical school friends, who are certainly not yet on the wheel, roll their eyes when I mention Twitter. They dismiss it because it’s one more thing they have to worry about.

How do we get the word out that social media stands to break the cycle rather than give another kick to the wheel?

Aaron J. Stupple is a medical student who blogs at Adjacent Possible Medicine.

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  • Stephen Schimpff MD

    It seems clear that social media will have a major impact on medicine and medical care in the coming years – just as it has on so many other aspects of life including the current events in North Africa and the Middle East. As you say, it is not yet clear just how social media will be utilized but the forces are certainly aligned. Doctors, especially primary care physicians, need to be more connected with their patients and this may be one very good manner to explore. Already patients use social media to create interest groups, support groups and fund raising groups in medicine. Physicians need to become engaged. Personally, I think PCPs need to use it for improving preventive services and for improving coordination of the care of those with chronic illnesses – both areas of great importance that are all too often neglected.

    • Aaron Stupple

      Wow, I’m in complete agreement- thank you for commenting!

      I try to give an example with a slightly new form, the micro-video blog, on my blog here:

      Would love your feedback.


      • Pamela Wible MD

        I LOVE your micro-video blogging. I think that is what I’ve tried to do but did not have the name for it. AWESOME!
        I’ve been trying to keep my micro-videos to about 45 seconds each. Not quite as spontaneous as yours though.

        This is my favorite so far:

        Pamela Wible MD

    • Chris Boardman

      I couldn’t agree more. Social Media for the healthcare industry is sorely needed by both physicians and patients. Thank you for so eloquently bringing clarity and awareness to the issue.


  • Pamela Wible MD

    Aaron ~ Great post! And you are right on track with bottom-up redesign of healthcare. I actually did this hosting a town hall meeting and allow citizens to design their own clinic:

    Now I wholeheartedly agree that social media is the way to empower patients (and physicians and med students!!!) to hold hands and jump off the assembly line together. It is happening. . .

    I think every doc should have a blog and a YouTube Channel:

    So much fun!!

    Thanks Aaron. Keep it up.

    ~ Pamela
    Pamela Wible, MD
    Blog with me:)

    • Aaron Stupple

      Dr. Wible,

      Wow- what a fantastic blog! Your clips are, IMHO, PERFECT!

      It’s great to see this stuff in action, now I have a great source to explain to some folks how this thing can work.

      Thank you, I’ll be in touch,


  • Art

    The problem with “common sense” ideas, like the measure twice and cut once to eliminate “mistakes” jsut doesn’t apply whne you need two 5 foot 2 by 4′s and the piece you are working on is 5 foot.

    We are short docs, nurses and other professionals that can’t be supplied for at least 7 years, and holf the existing supply are “boomers” who will retire or “slow down”.

  • Josh

    Hi Aaron,
    Indeed a great post and a great reference article. Concierge doctors like myself (@atlasmd) and Aaron Blackledge ( and many more are on the bleeding edge that you mention, utilizing social media in combo with innovative business models to help our patients.

    Just this morning i posted to twitter about how i was communicating with patients by twitter or sms for rapid, convenient affordable care.

    I offer unlimited care for $10-100/month based solely on age as well as wholesale medications and labs for pennies on the dollar. Our model allows patients to change their level of insurance w/o sacrificing quality or cost, while saving thousands a year (sometimes $1000/mo).

    that is how you change healthcare and social media is a vital cog in the wheel.

    but once again, great article.

  • Aaron Stupple

    Thanks so much for the encouragement!

    Concierge medicine is one of my prominent interests- really glad to be following you on Twitter.

    I’m eager to hear how you got into this and how it’s going. Until then, I will be busily exploring your web page!



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