The Shocking Truth Behind “Shocking” Healthcare Social Media Statistics

As a regular follower of social media, I am keenly aware of changes in the healthcare landscape as it relates to social media. While there’s much talk about the impact of social media in healthcare, most of the action sits on the consumer side of the equation. Much of the medical world has to yet to tap into its potential. For most healthcare providers social media engagement amounts to little more than watching as others dip their feet, testing  the waters. A few watch as they anticipate their own entry into the arena. Still many others watch with the expectation that the water would soon become bloody.

So its with a burlap full  of salt that I read various healthcare social media stats promulgated in various infographics, twitter feeds, and blog posts celebrating Medicine 2.0 powered by social media. Collectively they hash and rehash a series of surprising statistics that aren’t exactly bogus, but aren’t exactly completely factual either.

A recent one caught my eye with the claim was that “53% of physicians practices have a facebook page”. This was curious to me, because as I read this in the physician lounge and  took my own poll, the results was much closer to 5% than 50%.

Many of these posts are from sites of companies that are involved in consulting to heathcare entities and providers. In other words, it behooves them to make health care providers think that all or most of their colleagues are using this new and innovative set of tools. If they don’t get these new tools, they imply,  physicians will fall drastically behind their peers.

It’s a fantastic argument.  It’s how I convinced my dad that we should buy our first computer back in the 80’s which I then used mostly  for video games.

It’s still  how most of us practitioners convince our hospitals to make capital expenditures on the latest and greatest pieces of technology. Except when I go to my hospital administration I use real facts, real studies, and real data. I have to use real facts and real data because money is scarce, and because the health of real people are on the line. This burden of consequence is something that companies trying to sell a product  do not have to bear. And let’s face it,  social media lends itself to informality. The kitschy ‘graphics’ of an infographic are oft more important than the actual ‘info’ part. So if the fact checking isn’t that great, well hey, what did you expect, The New England Journal?

So should you start a Facebook page for your practice because 53% of your colleagues are doing that very thing right now? Well before you make that decision, you’d want to go the the source of the information.

This particular stat was from a survey conducted by a tech company called ZocDoc. ZocDoc is a company that allows patients to schedule their own appointments at physicians offices that have installed the software. Obviously physicians who would install this platform would be pretty comfortable with tech, and not your average EMR cursing, overworked physician. Indeed ZocDoc itself stated the survey results as 53% of “tech savvy” physicians had a facebook presence. I’m a tech savvy  physician. I don’t have Doc Zoc. So these must be the most super-duper, EMR lovin, hyper-tech, iphone 7 beta using dope robo-docs. So ok, if that’s the crowd you run with,  and you don’t have a Facebook presence for your practice, you are hereby informed that you’re in the 47th percentile of your peer group. Either way, let’s declare this 53% number as busted.

Another stat in the same infographic was equally as provocative. “60% of doctors”, it claimed, “say social media improves quality of care delivered to patients”. As is often the case, I dug into the references expecting more tomfoolery.   However, my curiosity was piqued when I found not a link to another health information consulting company, but to an actual honest to goodness journal article authored by scientists working at bastions of medicine.

The study was a survey emailed out to physicians. The fact that only one-third of physicians responded likely  biased the numbers towards those physicians who were involved in social media. About 60% of respondents said that they used social media to gain medical information. What was interesting was that about the same 60% also made the claim that using social media was a good way to get high quality information. And, presumably that same 60% also said that it improved the quality of care that they delivered.

At this point, I would like to have the attention of those involved in social media marketing to physicians. Here’s your new headline: and feel feel to quote me and reference this post:

“Nearly all physicians who use social media professionally find it to be a good way to get high quality information”

Here’s another one:

“Nearly all physicians who use social media to keep up to date believe that it improves the quality of care that they provide”

See what I did there? For the few of you who are wondering if those are  true statements, well,  it’s a lot more accurate than stating that 60% of physicians think that social media improves healthcare, which is blatant malarkey. But still, if you need another headline, go ahead and use this one:

“Physicians testing the waters of social media still have all their toes”

Deep Ramachandran is a pulmonary, critical care, and sleep medicine physician, and social media co-editor of CHEST Journal. He blogs at CaduceusBlog, CHEST Thought Leaders Blog, and is on Twitter @Caduceusblogger.

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