Using digital tools to improve patient communication

I come across many people using the terms social and digital interchangeably. Some doctors are digitally savvy. Yet that does not mean that they are practiced communications experts, or that they have the skills to make the most of today’s digital social tools. I thought this might be a good opportunity to open up this discussion.

As physicians, we were among the first professionals to adopt smartphones and iPads into our workflow — and healthcare leads the way in proliferating new, innovative apps. From diagnostics to practice management, healthcare technology is giving digital doctors the chance to make their workflow more productive and efficient.

However, while social media has become ubiquitous in countless professions, many digital doctors are only “social” when it comes to physician-to-physician social media. The real promise, in my opinion, is using digital technology to improve physician-to-patient communications.

Don’t get me wrong: Using social media to advance industry knowledge or to grow a professional network is very important. But the incredible scope of insights, knowledge, and understanding we can get from patients, patient support groups, and individuals who are seeking health information online is something we shouldn’t pass up.

There is also much more patients can learn from us, their trusted advisors. Being a social doctor means you are interested in collaborating, sharing information, and lending your expertise, be it clinical knowledge or your ability to facilitate patient-to-patient connections and even physician referrals. When we draw on not just social media but also other digital tools to do this, we start to translate what it means to be a doctor in the online world. We go socio-digital, if you will.

These are the challenges for the 21st century physician: Bringing what we do to where our patients increasingly are — online. How do you use digital tools for effective social communications with peers, and with patients?

Howard Luks is an orthopedic surgeon who blogs at his self-titled site, Howard J. Luks, MD. This article originally appeared in The Doctor Blog.

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