Arnel Reynon illustration
Health-care providers around metro Richmond have ventured beyond answering e-mails to communicating with their patients and communities through Twitter, Facebook and other social media.
They're retweeting articles on health care reform, posting photos of local providers helping in Haiti and encouraging healthy habits. "Richmond is an amazingly social town, both in real life and online," says Nick Dawson, who directs Bon Secours Richmond Health System's community engagement through social media.
Just as providers struggled a few years ago with e-mail, many are now trying to decide which social media make sense for them and their patients, says Deborah Love, executive director for the Richmond Academy of Medicine. Issues of concern for providers include legal considerations about patient privacy and their own scheduling and reimbursement for time spent responding to patients' queries and concerns.
"People want to be able to communicate in the easiest and the best way on both sides of the stethoscope," says pediatrician Gayle Schrier Smith, of Partners in Pediatrics on Stuart Circle. "We use Twitter as an opportunity to disseminate information," including updates on a recent recall of children's over-the-counter medication.
Short Pump resident Kate Semp, who follows the tweets of Smith and other physicians, recently found an orthopedist after Bon Secours responded to her tweeted query about local knee specialists. "I went from tweet to diagnosis in eight days," she says.
Dr. Mark Ryan of Virginia Commonwealth University's Hayes E. Willis Health Center tweets as @RichmondDoc about health-care alerts, such as an advisory about a recent spate of sore throats. "I view myself currently as being almost kind of a mini news aggregator," he says.
Dentist Jason Lipscomb, co-author of the book Social Media for Dentists , mixes tips on using tea bags to dull the pain of extracted wisdom teeth with tweeted tidbits about the community. By using social media, he says, "You can be part of the community and be seen as something other than someone who inflicts pain on people."