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The Wireless GP

The Wireless GP


Generational stereotypes are never easy to swallow, but when it comes to doctors and an investment in social media, the new generations of medical professionals are increasingly going online for both professional collaboration and patient support.
Last Updated: 27-Aug-2010

Whilst many older physicians may still be somewhat fearful of such developments and confined to their office hours, increasingly, a new wave of GPs are arming themselves with PDAs, setting up profiles on Facebook and posting healthcare advice on Twitter. Mobile apps like Epocrates are ubiquitous amongst hospital doctors and mobile development platforms like Apple’s SDK for iPhone and Google’s SDK for Android are changing the face of patient care for the future. And, whilst it’s ultimately impossible to come up with a precise figure for the number of GPs that are moving in the direction of new technologies, the trends are clear and the examples both varied and revealing.

For those Doctors most interested in collaboration with other medical professionals, a number of powerful solutions already exist and a further flow of Web 2.0 based websites are swiftly coming into existence. For example, sites like Sermo, Ozmosis and the soon to launch PharmiWebRx from Pharmiweb Solutions, already offer physicians web-based portals on which to share advice and insight on challenging cases, discuss the latest industry developments and view many of the most popular medical journals all in one place. These kinds of resources also provide a great unionizing effect, by empowering doctors to take collective action on matters of national healthcare policy and the issues most important to them. In addition, sites like Sermo also provide doctors with the chance to pool their collective knowledge and make it easily accessible across the web. Almost like an exclusive sub-division of Wikipedia, only verified physicians are eligible for an account - thus, weeding out the potential for spam and inefficiency in the service.

Yet above and beyond the usefulness of social media within the context of professional partnerships, sites like Twitter are also giving GPs the opportunity to stay in closer contact with their patients, enabling them to offer case specific advice on a regular basis – with healthcare tips only a Tweet away. This New York Times story perfectly demonstrates the power of Twitter in furthering the doctor-patient relationship. Thinking back to her attempts to help an unfortunate sufferer of the rare condition, Buerger’s disease, Dr. Pauline W. Chen considers how new social media might have assisted her in the fight to save her patient.

‘I thought about Eddie and other patients I have cared for who might have benefited from more frequent contact when I spoke with my colleague about social media and the patient-doctor relationship’, she writes. ‘I wondered if Eddie would have felt a little less isolated and perhaps been able to quit smoking if I had, for example, texted a word of encouragement to him every few days’.

So, whilst the amount of time doctors have been able to spend with their patients has typically been limited in the past, GPs can now keep in contact with them through everything from blogs to Tweets. Indeed, blogging is fast becoming one of the most powerful social media instruments available for doctors, with KevinMD and GruntDoc being two of the greatest examples of the power of the medium.

Yet at the opposite end of the scale, writing for the journal of the Institute of Biology, Dr. Aric Sigman opines that increased ‘social’ networking may actually have a negative effect on our health, by diminishing genuine face-to-face contact and negatively influencing our genetic makeup. So where there is little doubt that social media resources offer great potential for doctors and patients alike, Dr. Sigman’s warning is perhaps a timely reminder that such technologies are only part of the solution and not the solution itself.