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Facebook, Social Media and Patient Engagement

February 2, 2012
by John DeGaspari
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Social media and Patient Engagement

One of the biggest signs of how important social media is to the nation’s social (and business) fabric can be found in today’s headlines: Facebook Inc.’s filing of an initial public offering that could raise as much as $10 billon when it begins selling shares this spring, according to The Wall Street Journal. The Journal article says the IPO could raise the value of the social network between $75 billion and $100 billion.

Also noteworthy is the social network’s membership, with 845 million users globally, up 39 percent from the year before. “In just eight years, Facebook has the world’s social bazaar, where friends gossip, play games and swap 250 million photos per day,” the Journal article says.

It might also have added that that Facebook, and social networks in general, is changing the way many patients are becoming engaged with their own healthcare. I think it is particularly important for patients who struggle with chronic diseases, or patients who are elderly or isolated.
I recently touched on this topic with Caitlin Y. Lorincz, a research analyst with the Global Institute for Emerging Healthcare Practices, of Falls Church, Va.-based CSC. ”We are seeing an uptick I the number of elderly people who are joining Facebook, and some senior organizations are encouraging it to combat loneliness and isolation,” she says. And some physicians have taken advantage of the trend: she also provides an example of an ObGyn physician in Texas who uses Facebook and Twitter for updates. He has reported that his patients are coming to his office better prepared and more knowledgeable about their health, Lorincz says.

Lorincz also pointed to another example, this time from Great Britain: a healthcare Website called How Are You? Which was created through a partnership of the National Health Service East of England and Cambridge Healthcare. The site, which calls itself “The social Network for Health,” is an “open platform for security enhanced data sharing amongst NHS organizations and their patients,” and collects with Microsoft HealthVault. Data can be shared via the iPhone, iPad and other devices.

The Facebook IPO is the latest sign that better patient engagement is here to stay, and that social media tools can make the difference.