Flip No. 20

Become a digital physician

Learn the ins and outs of how doctors communicate with patients online.

By Flip the Clinic

Wendy Sue Swanson, a pediatrician and the executive director of digital health at Seattle Children’s Hospital, has been discussing health concerns with patients through her blog, Seattle Mama Doc, and on Twitter since 2009. “Health care providers stand at the precipice of a huge transformation,” says Swanson. “New technologies, new media, and social tools have the power to improve communication. There’s a great opportunity to meet patients and families where they are: online.”

Online, physicians can recast how health care is delivered, saving them time in the long run.

Instead of giving the same explanation for common conditions all day long, physicians can point patients to their own curated list of online resources. By packaging information for patients while they’re out of the clinic, providers can spend more time discussing the patient’s individual needs in it. A better partnership with patients and families will result.

Here are Wendy Sue Swanson’s seven tips for becoming an empowered digital physician.

7 tips for becoming an
empowered digital physician

When you’re already putting in long hours, it’s difficult to find more time to invest in work. But by scheduling 30 minutes, twice a week, to research and broadcast online, you could save yourself valuable time later.

1. Stay up to date in your practice by following what health care providers, medical academies, news organizations, and patients are saying online.

2. Write down the best sources of information you find so you can easily share them.

3. Each morning, ask employees what they think is important and relevant in the news.

1. Use whatever social media tool you’re comfortable with—Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube—to send out information to patients.

2. While they’re in the clinic, remind patients what online resources you’ve made available.

1. Create a virtual introduction to let patients and families know who you are in advance of their visit. This can be done by creating a one-minute video on a smartphone.

2. Reach out to patients ahead of time to let them know what to bring to the visit.

1. Set an agenda for the clinic visit.

2. Start by asking a patient where they’ve been online. (Ex: Where have you learned about things that keep you up at night? What resources are you consulting when you make medical decisions?)

3. If you don’t know the resource, use the computer in the exam room to look at and discuss the website together.

1. Collect websites, resources, clinical studies, and summaries that you trust and package them for patients.

2. Share preferred resources with the clinic staff. Encourage the staff to hand resources out to patients, too.

When telling a story about health, go beyond the statistics. Patients remember more when evidence appeals to their emotions.