Social Media and Health

Wong Gets Oriented

I took my son for his orientation to St. Mary’s College last week.  It gave me an idea of how dependent these kids are on the Internet, not just computers, but the world wide web.  It also made it clear to me just where we “live” now and where we will be “living.”  More and more we’ll all be turning to the Internet for our credible health information…just look at what the kids do now.

Many of you I support doctor’s use of the Internet and I write weekly for a  “physician’s blog” encouraging doctors to implement the Internet in their practice.  This article paraphrases last week’s post where I describe my observations made during Grant’s orientation.  When I was in college, I brought a Smith-Corona typewriter with me.  It was electric, had its own case, and I had to use those annoying strips

1.  At the outset of the trip, neither son nor daddy could agree on the best route.  We used the GPS systems linked to each of our smart phones (yes, my 18 year old has one).

2.  While air conditioning is still a luxury item at college (his dorm lacks AC), each and every dorm room has a broadband connection.  “WiFi” is only available in the library and classrooms.

3.  The college has gone “green.”  Each department stresses communication via email.  Every student receives a personal campus email address, however, we are told,  “most students never check email.”  Apparently, most college kids communicate exclusively via FaceBook and text messaging.

4.  All student billing and other administrative functions are channeled through a secure online “portal.”  Class assignments, notes, etc. are also posted on an online forum.  This means that all grades, bills, meal plan changes, class notes, etc. are now “online.”

5.  Laptop computers can be borrowed for free from the library.  They may be used anywhere on campus.  There is free access available when needed.

(BTW – have you checked the price of a basic laptop with WiFi?  Available now for under $300 locally.  Online access has become affordable – in fact, cheaper than a “smart phone.”

Lost computers can be located by searching for the missing computer’s MAC address.  This ID tag for computers online makes it difficult to “borrow” or lose a computer on campus.

6.  The college has abundant computer labs featuring both PC’s and Macs.  Some labs are open  24 hours and the campus computer center helps you diagnose and fix and problems you’ve encountered with your own computer, i.e. there is free access and support.

7.  We met with the most of the department heads  just as we met with the chief of IT (information technology).  When I went to school, there was no such thing as IT, much less an entire department.

8.  I dutifully used my iPhone to snap a few pics and text them to my wife.

9.  Copy machines are becoming obsolete.  Instead, each student starts the semester with $25 credit for printing.  Using the scanners, however, is free.  Instead of “copying,” the kids “scan” and download the images to a flash drive or shared storage.

“Shared” storage is given to each undergrad.  This is hard disk space alotted to each student on the school server (network computer).  This storage is backed up during the day and each student as access to any of their files (music, spreadsheets, documents, pics, etc) from any computer with a network/Internet connection.

10.  Best of all…when the washing machine or dryer has finished the load…an email message is sent.  Now it all makes sense, reread item #3!

What Does This Mean? Clearly, every aspect of a college student’s life is now integrated with the Internet, not just a computer, but online access.  The school even expects me to be fluent with computers by paying bills online and transferring money to Grant’s account while at school.

This generation will be using the Internet for every part of their college experience;  eating, studying, grades, bills, socialization and communication.

Doesn’t it seem logical that this generation, even more so than now, will be turning to the Internet for health information?  Isn’t logical they’ll turn to the Internet looking for a doctor?

Hmmm…maybe docs should be using the Internet, too.

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Social Media and Health

Vision Saved by Web Site

Vision saved by reading a web site?  Yes, my patient saved his own vision after reading about retinal detachments on this blog.  Learning from a credible health information source (this blog)  about his condition initiated a cascade of events leading to saving his vision.

A retinal tear or retinal hole can cause a retinal detachment.  Flashes and floaters sometimes precede the formation of a retinal tear, or, there may not be any symptoms at all.  Retinal holes are usually associated with a condition called lattice degeneration, a natural thinning of the retina.

Web Site Saves Vision

Last week a patient came to the office with decreased vision in the right eye.  He lost most of his vision in the right eye.   I diagnosed a retinal detachment and scheduled him for surgery.  His visual prognosis, despite successful surgery,  is not great as the retinal detachment is of unknown duration and the macula is also detached.

I suggested he read this blog specifically about retinal detachment and “PVD and Floaters.”

Several days later, floaters developed in the left eye (the “good” eye).  Now educated about retinal detachments, he emailed, concerned about a possible retinal detachment developing in the remaining eye.

I was able to successfully laser the tear and thereby prevent a retinal detachment!

What Does This Mean?

I will be operating on his “bad” in the next week or so.  Due to the length of time of the detachment, there is an urgency, but no real emergency.  Still, he has learned the significance of a long standing retinal detachment.

Using this web site as a tool for patient education, he was able to learn much more about retinal detachments, especially warning signs of a retinal tear!

Another advantage of learning through a web site is you can go at your own pace.  You can re-read and research.  This is a huge advantage over a doctor visit or reading a printed flyer.

“Unlearning” something takes more time and energy than initial “learning.”  Clearly, since the original cause of vision loss was “missed,” it took additional time for my patient to “unlearn” and then “relearn.”

A web site affords time to “unlearn.”

Lastly, armed with new information, specifically warning signs of a retinal detachment, my patient emailed me about his new “learned” concerns.

Email is easier than a phone call.  No answering machines, recordings and leaving messages.  Email is a form of communication that is convenient and less intimidating than a phone call.

Regardless, this new “system” worked well and in favor of my patient last weekend.

The Internet can work for improving health care!

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Social Media and Health

Doctors Improve the Internet!

Doctors can improve the Internet.  Doctors could be creating more web sites that provide good, credible health information, or content, to educate the public.  There is a paucity of reliable “experts” writing on health.  The timing is perfect for docs to become more involved.

Stop Playing Doctor

Too few doctors really use the Internet to engage patients.  There is the mistaken belief that by doing so we may breach patient confidentiality or that we may be liable for advice we give.

So stop playing doctor.  Use the Internet to inform, to educate.  Leave the advice and treatment plans in the office; where it belongs.

Creating a Primary Resource

We all know that good, reliable health information is hard to find on the Internet.  There are lots of web pages out there, but most are written by “perceived” experts.  Perceived experts are those that have taken the time to create content, but it isn’t necessarily good content.  Many times perceived experts are actually trying to sell a product; vitamins and diet plans are good examples.

Doctors, however, are the authority figures.  They are the experts and along with “authority” comes credibility.  Docs use this authority in the office everyday seeing patients.  This same authority could be used on the Internet to create more accurate and relevant health content.

If docs are able to serve as primary resources of information, the health information on the web gets better.

“Just the Facts, Maam” (Sgt. Joe Friday, “Dragnet”)

What am I talking about?  I am not talking about offering medical advice over the Internet.  I am not talking about forming a relationship with a patient online via email or FaceBook.  That would take too much time and would be wrong.

I am; however, interested in getting more docs to publish information about health – for the sole purpose of educating.  For instance, on this web site I educate about two retinal diseases; diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration.  I have written quite a few articles about the diseases and provide information so others can learn.  I have chosen to share my knowledge.  In contrast, I am NOT offering medical advice nor offering treatments or recommendations per se.

As they used to say on Dragnet, ” Just the facts, maam.”

What Does This Mean? A doctor’s expertise is broken into several parts.  One part of expertise is knowledge and I am advocating that more docs share their knowledge.

Docs like to participate in speaking engagements all the time.  There is not much difference between giving a lecture and preparing content for the web.  In fact, content for the web can be in many formats; including Power Point.

My point is that docs to this same sort of “soft” marketing and lecturing already.  There really is no difference between giving a lecture and preparing content for the web.  It’s stuff we know and are sharing.

Another facet of “expertise” is experience.  Doctors distinguish themselves by their experience, not necessarily their knowledge.  Knowledge without experience is useless.  A doctor can NOT use his experience over the Internet.

A doctor’s experience does not exist on the web, but his knowledge certainly could.

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