Ways Social Media Has Changed Patient Care

Just a few years ago, no one would have imagined that the same media that hosts millions of selfies, silly emojis, made-up hashtags and virtual friends would have much impact on the life-and-death world of healthcare.

But it has.

In fact, social media in healthcare seems to have exploded. And it is transforming patient care as it spreads through many facets of healthcare delivery.

Whether you tweet, post pictures and videos on Instagram or keep it original with Facebook, there’s a strong possibility that social media has impacted the way that you practice medicine or interact with patients.

How many patients are using social media?

Physicians are discovering that they need to be on social media because patients are—in droves. The statistics are eye-opening.

PewResearch, a non-partisan think tank, found that 74 percent of internet users engage on social media. Among those internet users, 80 percent are specifically looking for health information, and nearly half are searching for information about a specific doctor or health professional.

That means that millions of patients are seeking out health information online every single day!

Physicians using social media can tap into this trend and enjoy increased engagement with current patients, while they promote their services more effectively to potential patients.

But it’s about more than just marketing. Research conducted a by Demi & Cooper Advertising and DC Interactive Group found that nearly 60 percent of doctors admit social media improves the quality of care provided to patients.

Social Media in Healthcare: 3 Key Changes

Here’s a look at the top three ways that social media has changed patient care:

1. Increased communication and connection

At its very core, social media was created to connect and unify communities and make it easier for people to interact with one another. Despite some risks for misuse, social media in healthcare can be a powerful tool to increase communication between clinical providers, patients and their healthcare networks.

Most hospitals, physicians and even insurance companies now have an active presence on social media outlets, and are leveraged to communicate important topics to patients.

From disease outbreak notices to tips on staying healthy during cold and flu season, physicians using social media can help bridge the gap between the provider and the patient--which makes for a more connected and unified healthcare experience.

2. Unfiltered feedback and access to reviews

Like it or not, patients can express their experiences about an interaction with a healthcare provider and then share that information online for everyone to see. News spreads quickly and reputations can be affected.

While most social media users understand that people are more likely to share bad experiences than positive ones, research shows that patients have come to trust the reviews they read online.

According to the website Mediabistro, more than 40 percent of customers say that the information found on social media impacts the way they handle their healthcare.

Not surprisingly, millennials are the most likely to rely on others’ opinions. Search Engine Watch reports that nearly 90 percent of them trust healthcare information shared by others on social media.

What does this mean for your practice? It’s critical for physicians using social media to build a community of trust and rapport with their patients.

In addition to the mainstream social media sites, there are various healthcare-specific social media networks, including PatientsLikeMe and HealthGrades. These popular sites let patients post feedback about their clinical experiences and connect with others who may have similar conditions and diseases.

HealthGrades also rates hospitals, which physicians and other practitioners could use to do some of their own comparisons when they are searching for employment or specific information.

3. Patient education and real-time information

This use of social media in healthcare can help educate patients and provide instant access to physicians. This is made possible by social media features that allow users to relay media, information, images and video in real time.

One notable example was a live-tweeting event that involved St. Vincent Charity Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio. In 2013, the hospital conducted a unique project where they live-tweeted a total knee replacement surgery. The surgery garnered almost 400 participants following along on Twitter and 3,000 over live-stream video.

Their hashtag #stvknee was a trending tag throughout the entire process, and the positive response caused many other facilities to copy this approach.

Other hospitals have used live-social media usage to share emergency information or fundraise for special causes.

Patient education is also a crucial part of the “information now” era where people can google a symptom and connect with a doctor or other clinician virtually via phone or web. A lot of what patients find online can be helpful, but they can also find a lot of half-truths and misleading information.

Healthcare practitioners who create and share useful content and are responsive to patients have the opportunity to become a trusted source of information.

Navigating the world of online interactions isn’t easy, but it has become part of the job for most medical practitioners. Physicians who embrace social media in healthcare can find a lot of positive outcomes.

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