Picture the following scenario: A new patient comes into your office wanting to know about a new miracle procedure she recently heard about on Facebook or Twitter. You spend most of the ensuing consultation trying to counter socially driven misinformation with medically based facts only to have her leave in search of a provider who will tell her what she wants to hear.
If that scenario sounds familiar, it seems you have plenty of company. Surveying 128 plastic surgeons in 19 countries, the UK-based Aesthetic Plastic Surgery journal found that most respondents believed that patients were more likely to have unrealistic expectations due to social media. Specifically:
- 85% of respondents felt that information found on social media by their patients could lead to unrealistic expectations
- 29% said their consultations were now more difficult following the advent of social media
But here’s the rub. The survey also showed that 95% of patients used the Internet to research the treatment prior to consultation, highlighting that 46% of these patients used social media. The takeaway? When almost half of patients turn to social media for information about their aesthetic options, dismissing the medium because of its perceived hassles simply isn’t an option.
That’s especially true as patients’ reliance on social media is only going to increase. According to a new report from the University of Cincinnati:
- 50% of the global population is under 30 years old
- 96% of those have joined a social network
- 70% of all web content is consumer-generated media
And as the report goes on to note, healthcare consumers are taking that information into account as they consider their options:
- 60% of e-patients say data found online affected a decision about how to treat an illness/condition
- 56% say it changed their overall approach to maintaining their health
- 53% say it led them to ask a doctor new questions or to get a second opinion
- 38% say it affected a decision about whether to see a doctor
Together, the two reports highlight a challenge that is likely to define healthcare for years to come. On one side are millions of healthcare consumers who are turning to online resources to gather medical information. On the other are those doctors who focus on the potential pitfalls and added workload those online resources can lead to and, therefore, miss out on the opportunity to contribute when it can do the most good.
Bottom line: Since socially savvy consumers show no signs of changing their behavior, socially resistant doctors should.
It takes an empowered doctor to treat empowered patients
The rise of the “empowered patient” is a double-edged sword as today’s healthcare consumers have access to a near-infinite stock of online information, be it good, bad or downright dangerous. And while “social healthcare” presents challenges for doctors, it also offers an opportunity: Doctors who engage with aesthetic consumers via social media — by answering questions, posting informative articles, photos and videos, etc. — do more than just provide a counterpoint to false claims and junk science. They also engage with potential patients when it matters most, influencing the overall discussion and becoming empowered doctors along the way.