JUNE 9th, 2015

Social Media and the Internet
Put to Good Medical Use Across the Globe

U.S., Latin America, Philippines, India, Berlin... International medical professionals spoke about the impact of social media and the Internet, including digital health startups and projects, on the medical practice from their point of view.

The annual conference on social media in the medical field Doctors 2.0 & You was held in Paris 4-5 June 2015. Founded by Basil Strategies, e-marketing and social media specialist for healthcare, the event welcomed experienced medical professionals, technology specialists, social media consultants and marketing managers to participate in speeches during both days. They discussed digital strategies and social networking in the medical field through various subcategories. One prominent theme was the impact of social media and the Internet on medical practice from the physician’s point of view, including digital health startups and digital health projects.

Dr Iris
Courtesy of Dr Tan

Social Media Capital of the World

A first talk was the epic of contrast: young Dr. Iris Thiele Isip Tan from the Philippines and seasoned Dr. Carlo Caballero-Uribe from Colombia. While age will play a factor in the easy acceptance of social media in the medical field, it is certainly not the only point to consider. Cultural differences between both countries give ample reason to the promotion of social media use in the field.

The Philippines, as explained by Dr. Tan or the Endocrine Witch, is considered the social media capital of the world. “If you’re online in my country,” stated Dr. Tan, “you’re on Facebook. No one goes virtual without being connected to Facebook.” Which is not easy with the local slow internet connection (2.5 megabytes per second). “You can open your email inbox, make coffee and have breakfast before you can read your email.” This doesn’t stop them from staying up on social media, with an average of 6.3 hours online per day.

Dr. Tan feels it’s important for doctors to go where the patients are in order to preserve the doctor-patient relationship, and supports the idea of crowdsourcing needed funds to find cures for diseases, such as Indiegogo’s treatment for degenerative diseases. She certainly practices what she preaches through her endocrine center website, professional Facebook account, Twitter page and other platforms.

A Simple Definition of Digital Health
Courtesy of Brandi Sinkfield, Digital Health Fellow Anesthesia, Informatics and Media Lab at Standford University

“That Didn’t Exist in 1993.”

Contrary to our Filipina wizard whose wand spreads dust across the virtual globe, Dr. Caballero, who began practice in 1993, explained how the shared switch to high-mass implementation of social media has taken a slow start in his country. He believes the economic situation of the majority of the Colombian population impedes the big change. However, Colombia currently has a plan of action for social media.

Through a governmental plan and a high status of Open Data, Colombians are on the way to adopting the internet life in the medical field. “We have a plan for doctors from 2014 to 2018 covering four main topics: universal medical records, digital footprint, social medical applications for all people and office visits via telehealth, “ explained Dr. Caballero.

Doctors 2.0 & You selected patients to handle tweetchats and Google Hangouts as ePatients. Certain discussions were also moderated by ePatients, enhancing the "patients-included" concept and offering additional insight.

“A patient comes into your office in 1993 and we all know how that went,” began ePatient Michael A. Weiss. “It’s 2015 now and there’s the Internet. That didn’t exist in 1993. What is different with the doctor-patient encounter?”

“I believe it’s the same encounter, although we didn’t have Internet in 1993. However, we have more information about medicine we can find online.”

They work with digital medical history records, but doctors are wary of social media and digital health startups. They view online social media platforms as a way to communicate between colleagues, but less interesting for the doctor-patient relationship. The awaited question was raised: Who’s going to pay doctors for their time spent online prescribing or consulting with patients? Certain doctors introduced the idea that insurance companies might be most interested in investing in digital health projects, since many of these projects allow them to save money.


Digital Health Market Growth

In certain countries where a vast majority of the population does not have access to the Internet or social media, the Internet becomes most useful for doctors through digital medical health projects and startups. Countries such as the Philippines will still find a boost in medical knowledge for patients via social media despite connection challenges. The idea to move forward with digital health projects seems supported on both angles.

During a second discussion, moderator Brandi Sinkfield, Digital Health Fellow Anesthesia, Informatics and Media Lab at Stanford University, gave a simple definition: “digital health is defined as tools used such as mobile applications, telehealth and wearables and sensors.”

While such tools are meant to improve access to care for patients in a cost-effective manner, the challenges of implementing such changes in a very traditional sector cannot be ignored. Sinkfield explained that the most successful digital health projects have excellent government support, seen often in Switzerland, Finland, Denmark. As Colombia’s governmental plan aims at a social media uprise in the medical field for 2018, Sinkfield emphasized the importance on the digital health market growth in Asia and Latin America, among others. “Digital health is expected to be a 53 billion dollar market by 2020.”

A Time to Act

The exploding market provides substantial opportunities for professionals in the medical realm and beyond. While the question of financing remains to be solved in full, more and more startups are joining the playing field. Canadian company MedClinik, for example, released its first product, TAVIE, the “world’s first clinically validated” VirtualNurse platform; and French company NeMo Health launched i-Nside Pro, a multi-lens imaging device connecting a smartphone with an endoscope.


Tavie: VirtualNurse for treatment adherence

Courtesy of MedClinik

TAVIERX and i-Nside Pro hit each end of the medical zone: the patient and the doctor. Last year’s Doctors 2.0 & You winning startups do the same, using the web to bring physician expertise to patients. Germany-based Medexo is a web-based platform to find second medical opinions. In Germany statistics identify 85% of performed surgeries per year as unnecessary, so Medexo provided a professional solution that has, in its first year, cut back on this percentage.

Medexo representative discusses their digital startup, getting a second opinion for surgeries.
Courtesy of Doctors 2.0

“Since 2012, from all patients who benefited from Medexo’s second opinion online, 50% of these patients were able to avoid surgery and this led to 94% customer satisfaction after one year,” stated a Medexo representative. “The insurance companies save money and unnecessary surgeries were avoided.”

There seems to be no time to waste. Certain doctors have already exhausted their time for digital health projects and have begun investing. Dr. Malpani, IVF doctor from India, launched several e-learning courses for his patients, including an online comic book for his patients’ husbands to get them interested. He created the DocExplain app for other doctors, providing them material to use when explaining situations to their patients. After additional digital health projects and applications, including HCGExpert, which allows patients to understand their ultrasound results, he decided his time on creating its own projects was spent and began investing in others’ projects like Avaz for autistic children and the educational startup Patient Education and Awareness Series (PEAS).

Read more about Dr. Malpani’s work in an exclusive interview with MedicalExpo here.

Malpani HCGExpert
Erin Tallman

By Erin Tallman

Erin Tallman, writer and web journalist of MedicalExpo e-magazine, brings innovative information back to her readers. Her first literary work, Imperfections, was published 2 May 2014 and she continues publishing short stories on her artisty blog.

You may also like