Mobile Healthcare Series: When Hospitals Embrace Social & Tech, Patients Win

Mobile Healthcare Series: 1 of 3

When you think about it, the huge impact mobile devices have had in the few years since their inception has been quite remarkable.  The way we communicate, find information, shop, and even handle our finances has been completely transformed.  However, there is one area that has the capacity to really benefit from the technology of smartphones and tablet computers but has yet to unlock its full potential—healthcare.  Though with recent developments, this industry is taking huge strides to use these devices for the benefit of communities, hospitals, and global health.  In a series of 3 blogs, we’ll look at emerging social media and tech trends in medicine, concerns about the increased use of mobile devices, and implications for global health and the future of medicine.

Social Media

Local communities can reap the benefits of hospitals and medical practitioners embracing social media.  In a time of crisis or natural disaster, emergency rooms are often at the center of the action. While the internet is full of medical information, not all of it is genuine.  Utilizing the mass communication abilities of social media, hospitals can distribute accurate updates and relevant first-aid information.  Not only does this help keep the population informed and safe, but it also cuts down on the number of ER visitors, which allows doctors to focus on those who really need their attention.

Scott & White Healthcare used Twitter during the Fort Hood attack in November of 2009.  Through Twitter, the hospital provided updates on ER access, announced hospital operation status, re-tweeted news from the Red Cross, and communicated with reporters.  As a result of their efforts, Scott & White Healthcare’s Twitter followers increased 78% in three days and the hospital was listed on the front page of Twitter as a trending topic.

Henry Ford Hospital became one of the first medical centers to Tweet a live procedure, giving a complete play-by-play of the removal of a cancerous tumor in a patient’s kidney. Followers of this operation included other doctors, medical students, patients who would be having a similar procedure, and others who were just plain curious about medicine.  Live-tweeting an operation makes medicine more accessible to the average person by presenting a completely unknown process in a familiar, understandable format. Besides helping someone who is nervous about an upcoming surgery become more familiar with the procedure, social media can be a great way to augment a hospital’s marketing plan. Instead of relying on traditional advertising routes to promote a medical center’s technological advancements, talented staff, or satisfied patients, these organizations can use a social media campaign as a softer and friendlier way to promote themselves.  In addition to marketing benefits, creating a buzz around the hospital helps attract better doctors and medical students.  Many other medical centers have followed Henry Ford Hospital’s lead and began tweeting from the operating room as well.

Mobile Technology

Although the trend of hospitals getting involved in social media has been slow to catch on, many medical centers have been quick to embrace mobile technology in some very exciting ways.

Patients, doctors, nurses, lab technicians, and other important hospital staff can access patient records, including medical history, x-rays, and other lab results, right from their iPads, eliminating the need for charts and other paperwork.  Not only does this green initiative protect a patient’s privacy by making it tougher for unauthorized people to access charts, but it also allows for faster sharing of information and less opportunities for human error.

A hospital in Singapore installed iPad “kiosks” that allow patients and visitors to check-in, find departments, get directions, and locate where they are supposed to go for various appointments.

A company in Germany has even developed an application that can turn an iPhone or iPad into a fully-functional ultrasound machine.

Currently, about 20% of physicians have iPads and more than 70% use smartphones.  These numbers are rising and it is estimated that by 2015 over 500 million people will be using healthcare apps.  Social campaigns and mobile application development, once an area left mostly to marketing agencies and tech companies, are now used by medical centers to improve patient care.  As technology advances and mobile devices become more and more powerful, applications with surely be capable of much more than they are today.

What are some other uses for social media or new mobile technology that you think could benefit healthcare?


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