Social Technologies in Health Care

In late March, I had the opportunity to participate in a two-part panel sponsored by ASAE & The Center for Association Leadership, “Social Technologies in Healthcare: Applications, Implications and What’s Next?”  I did a recap post of the event here.

To set up the conversation, each of the panelists were asked to respond to a series of questions. I thought it would be helpful to post here the answers I provided there. I don’t know that they’re profound, and I hope they’re not totally unique, because then I’d be seriously off base. And as always, what you see written here is my perspective, and doesn’t represent my employer.

Question One: What is your long-term vision for the impact of social technologies on health care?

Social technologies already are important in health care, in that they give voice to individuals and enable them to connect with others who have similar experiences, conditions and concerns. Word of mouth has always been important in health and health care, dating back even to biblical times when reports of miraculous healings would cause thousands to gather on a hillside in Galilee. So it’’s no surprise that patients are using powerful social technologies to spread the word about their health care experiences.

Patients also are forming virtual communities and support groups that overcome geographic barriers. It has been impractical to form many of these communities of interest locally because the conditions are too unusual to provide for a critical mass of individuals with common interests. But social technologies eliminate these barriers to group formation and enable patients to learn from each other.

In the longer term, we must find ways to incorporate social technologies into management of chronic diseases and conditions such as diabetes. The shortage of primary care physicians will worsen, calling for more emphasis on mid-level providers. But nurses and physician assistants (PAs) will be in short supply as well.

It will be physically impossible to provide quality management for a growing population of Baby Boomers with chronic conditions, even with increased reliance on mid-level providers. But virtually it may be possible. And since many of those conditions are substantially influenced by behavior, peer networks mediated by social technologies have potential, with appropriate medical provider involvement, to provide social support to reduce the burden of disease.