A medical student talks about social media in health care

In the course of doing research on the future of social media in health care, and hearing from a group of doctors who believe there isn’t one in their practice, I also talked to a few future physicians. Three to be exact, from different parts of the United States, a third year student, a student on the verge of enrolling in a US medical school, and the one I am writing about here, Chad Rudnick.

Chad’s a 4th year medical student at University of South Florida College of Medicine. We got in touch because Edelman pitched me about USF’s use of social media to publicize its Match Day celebration.

I got this in an e-mail from Jamie Carracher:

My client the University of South Florida College of Medicine is celebrating Match Day 2011 with a Web 2.0 twist, by sharing the emotion of the moment with friends and family across the world through Facebook, Twitter and Second Life.

I thought this was interesting. In the middle of me hearing the “NO” from practicing physicians on Sermo.com, a top-tier communications firm is representing a medical school, promoting its involvement in the social media space. I had to find out more.

Jamie asked if I wanted to speak to a current student and the Dean of the School, Dr. Klasko. I said yes to both. Dr. Klasko’s interview is happening a bit later, in the meantime, here is what I learned from Chad.

First the most important news, Chad’s matched at his first choice, Miami Children’s Hospital, where he expects to become a pediatrician and educator. Congratulations!

Use of social media by medical students today

Mostly to connect with friends and family and learn about events, Facebook is the primary network of choice. Not really a Twitter user, and reports that a minority of his colleagues are using Twitter.

The other two students I spoke to corroborated this usage pattern.

Use of social media by his medical school to communicate with students

Currently, Chad says that the medical school relies on e-mail to communicate with students. However, there’s also a privately accessible sharepoint site where all the communications can be accessed on demand.

The other two (not USF) students corroborated this usage pattern as well – social media is not dominating school-student communication.

Why is University of South Florida Medical School engaged in social media then?

Chad told me simply, “Dean (Stephen) Klasko, he’s a techie.”  He said that Dr. Klasko tweets (@USFhealth ), blogs, and has a Facebook page, he keeps USF on the cutting edge.

This combined with the way that USF plans its match day, in a very informal atmosphere see : YouTube – Match Day 2011 Video Invitation – makes social media a fit. “it’s a celebration,” Chad told me, and allowed he and his colleagues to share this special day (when medical students across the U.S. find out where they will train in the specialty of their dreams…) with friends and family across the country. The text messages and phone calls came immediately after hearing of the news on the live stream (see : Kiss me, I matched ).

What is the impression that your Dean creates in his use of social media?

He’s “More approachable” – “we are able to see someone through so many different avenues”

One of the other students (not at USF) did not report this same level of enthusiasm from their medical school leadership.

Does USF have an official policy for students’ use of social media?

Chad told me he is not aware of a written policy (see data below), however he does recall an information discussion several years ago that was had with his class about posting anything that would violate the privacy of patients cared for.

We’re talking about social media for spreading good news, have you seen social media used for spreading bad news, such as a less-than-favorable rotation/educational experience?

Chad indicated that students have had bad days and sometimes use Facebook to vent, as much as anyone who is having a bad day. He’s not aware of any student being reprimanded for their social media use.

One of the other students (again, not at USF) told me that there have been incidents of students reporting on negative aspects of their experience, which did result in action on the part of the school. However, they said that comments quieted down and then would return after some time.

How do you think you’ll use social media in your practice in the future? (this is where the conversation took an interesting turn)

“It (social media) will have a place in health care. Those who don’t use it will not be reaching their patients,” and, “I will use it (social media) to update my patients. I will use it to enhance the doctor-patient relationship.”

He connected this to the changing access of people to their health records, thinking about how it will be normal for patient to have 24/7 access to their records, portable, on a thumb drive, as an example, and this supports his idea that, “the more people are involved in their health record, the more they will be involved in their health.”

Here’s the interesting part for me – when we started talking about Chad’s future use of social media in his practice, his tone changed, I could hear the excitement, I’ll actually say passion in his voice.

I mentioned this to him, and asked if he was worried that his residency training might delay his ability to act on his intent in this space. To that, he told me that he understood there would be a grandfathering-in (or out) of traditional media, as it would be supplemented and then replaced by new media as his generation becomes the practicing physician community.

Chad told me about a recent debate about the future of health care where there was a discussion about what to do regarding patients using social media. He told me, “we have to embrace it,” and “it’s not going away,” and further reminded me that when he’s in his 40′s, he’ll have been using social media as a physician for 20 years.

Chad’s words reminded me of this quote from our paper, Social Media and the Health System:

“On the basis of current life expectancy, it is possible that an individual over the age of 50 today could be cared for by a physician who is not yet born.”
– Jack Cochran, MD, Executive Director, The Permanente Federation

The best leaders make people less afraid of the future. With that in mind, I’ll say I was pretty fear-less by the end of our conversation.

Did I mention that Chad’s 25 years old? I don’t think I did –  Chad is 25 years old.

Ted Eytan is a family physician who blogs at his self-titled site, Ted Eytan, MD.

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