The E-Patient Health Care Revolution

In a recent John Hopkins study, scientists analyzed over 1.6 million health care-related tweets between May 2009 and October 2010. They discovered that trends communicated via Twitter were in line with national Center for Disease Control averages. Tweets were also quicker in conveying information, and allowed researchers the ability to study data by specific location. Since individuals are posting their own health information, researchers can bypass security rulings and analyze what regions are affected. Social media is not the cure-all for our current health care obscurity woes, but it does begin to create a dialogue.

Twitter and other social media tools empower both providers and patients. “E-patients” is now a coined termed referring to patients who are technologically aware and savvy. E-patients not only engage with social media, but are also using online health tools to help diagnose a condition or gain necessary knowledge and information. As the use of health technology increases and more practices begin to utilize electronic medical records, the barrier between patient and provider can be diminished and the two roles can become more interactive, transparent, and vocal.

Before the advent of new technology, it was difficult to pinpoint where a flu epidemic was taking place, or what medicines were being misused for issues such as insomnia or basic pain. Now, users of social media are broadcasting their afflictions to the public and giving health professionals a glimpse into personal diseases and shortages.

Historically, health research has been stalemated by patient privacy, which hinders researchers in their quest for up-to-date information. Social media breaks down these barriers by giving doctors, and other health specialists, the necessary communications tools to engage patients and learn about current health-related issues. Twitter has given a voice to the general public; as more individuals become vocal about their needs, the health care system can interact personally by harnessing technology to modernize and become more transparent.  

By harnessing social media, providers can determine what allergies are affecting people, when patients become sick, and who lacks the necessary resources, such as health insurance, to get well. Experts can create a network of communication through social media tools by commenting on recent tweets and offering advice and education about health care. Restrictions of patient privacy break down as people become more engaged and willing to discuss their health to the general public.

Social media has been the catalyst for the growing trend of transparency and unconstrained lines of communication between health professionals and the general public, but the health care system itself will need to revolutionize before significant change is realized. By using technology and social media tools, the health care community can engage and connect with the public as a whole.

Photo Credit: rosefirerising

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Elizabeth Elfman

Elizabeth is currently exploring health policy directly related to the expanding field of health technology. Through her work she is able to assess healthcare at both the national and federal level. Her political interests also include women's rights and international diplomacy. She is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, where she obtained a degree in political science and communication public service. She has been published in Boston Magazine and the Philadelphia Daily News.

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