Paul Rosen, MD, a pediatric rheumatologist, didn’t quite know what to expect. As clinical director of service and operational excellence at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Del., he was about to participate in his first Facebook chat.
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Explore This IssueFebruary 2013
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Juvenile arthritis was the topic. The chat was scheduled on a weekday afternoon in May, in observance of Arthritis Awareness month, and hosted by the ACR. A transcript of the chat is available online. Because it is his job to improve the patient experience, he believed this would be a good opportunity to check out social media’s impact on healthcare education.
“Our patients are high users of social media,” he says. “I wasn’t sure how many patients would write in. Questions poured in. It was a great response.”
Nemours, a children’s health system, started to reach out to patients through social media about five years ago. After roughly five Facebook chats on a variety of topics, ranging from arthritis to hearing loss, the online communication has helped the healthcare organization accomplish several goals: Overall patient satisfaction scores have improved; the Nemours brand has been exposed to new markets and attracting new patients; and patients and their families are now better informed about serious diseases and treatments.
Dr. Rosen and another rheumatologist—Patience White, MD, professor of medicine and pediatrics at George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Services, Washington, D.C.—participated in the chat. Approximately 100 patients and their families posed questions throughout the hour-long session.
“There’s a gap between what people want in terms of accessibility and what we’re providing,” says Dr. Rosen, explaining that patients typically wait for their scheduled appointment to ask healthcare questions. “People just want their questions answered in a quick, easy way. They’re okay with talking to someone who’s not their physician, who’s maybe another physician or an expert.”
Or even a travelling physician. During the chat, Dr. Rosen was driving his car. He called the chat’s moderator, who alternated questions between Dr. White and him. The moderator read questions to him and typed his responses. Dr. White, also vice president of public health at the Arthritis Foundation, logged on to the Facebook chat from her office computer, read the questions, then dictated her answers to an assistant who was sitting beside her.
After the experience, Dr. Rosen is now convinced that physicians need to expand their reach beyond face-to-face patient visits, and that chats are an especially effective approach for communicating with patients in rural or underserved areas.