EHR and Social Media: Do They Belong Together?

Social media has become a regular part of life. According to the Pew Research Center, 72% of American adults use some form of social media, with Facebook and YouTube being the most popular platforms. The majority of Facebook users visit the site at least once a day. Many of these users share intimate details with friends and family members about their current health condition and mood. This type of information could be useful to behavioral health professionals who are searching for ways to improve patient care and keep clients engaged.

Some health care professionals might consider using social media to communicate with patients. After all, many of today’s patients prefer communicating digitally. For example, a survey from 2017 found that globally, the majority of Gen Z and millennials communicate with others through a digital source more often than in person.

Does this mean behavioral health professionals should integrate social media with their electronic health record (EHR)? The answer is not clear-cut, and there are challenges to overcome if social media and EHRs are to mix seamlessly. However, considering that many people use social media for health-related purposes, it’s a topic worth exploring. In this guide, we’ll look at the role social media plays in health care. We’ll also explore reasons to use social media in a health care context and if it belongs with EHR.

Table of Contents

The Background of EHRs

EHRs are digitized versions of patients’ health records. These records are available instantly to staff members who need to access a patient’s information to provide treatment. A behavioral health EHR typically contains a patient’s medical history, diagnoses, treatment plan, progress notes and any other relevant information needed for reimbursement and treatment. EHR software keeps patient information secure, so clinicians can protect their clients’ data and comply with privacy laws.

Due to its many benefits, such as increased accuracy and streamlined billing, EHR adoption rates have risen drastically since the first system was created in 1972. Today’s systems are designed to improve efficiency and patient engagement and offer features like automated appointment reminders. EHR software can also be downloaded on mobile devices, which adds convenience for both doctors and patients.

The Role of Social Media in Health Care Organizations

The Role of Social Media in Health Care Organizations

Using social media as a tool is not something new in health care. For example, according to one study, health care professionals use social media, such as networking sites and blogs, to promote their brand, interact with patients, share information with the public and connect with colleagues. A survey of over 4,000 physicians found that 65% of them use social media for professional purposes, and these numbers are increasing.

Here’s an overview of ways to utilize the power of social media in any health care setting:

  • Connect with other professionals: According to the P&T article, the most popular social media sites among physicians are those that allow them to communicate with peers and discuss a range of topics, from patient care to ethical issues. Health care professionals also use social networking sites to share opinions, gain insight and support each other.
  • Educate students: Social media is increasingly being used in universities to prepare students for careers in the healthcare field and enhance their learning experiences. For example, one study found that 81% of pharmacy students who used Twitter to discuss classroom topics felt they were able to express their opinions better. Therefore, any health care practice that welcomes recent graduates can expect the new staff members to be familiar with social media as a learning aid.
  • Market your business: Health care organizations, from behavioral health practices to patient advocacy groups, use social media for marketing their services, spreading awareness of their brand and providing customer service. It’s estimated that 70% of health care organizations in the United States use social media, particularly Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. Blogs are another popular way to provide useful information and increase visibility. With the majority of Americans going online every day, any business would not want to miss the opportunity to connect with existing and potential customers in the digital world.
  • Educate patients: Health care practices use social media to share helpful information and reliable educational resources with patients. Physicians need to remember that 80% of internet users use online sources to obtain health-related information, and 74% of them use social media. Clinicians help patients by connecting them to trustworthy information via tweets, blog posts or video content. It’s important that health care professionals counter the abundance of inaccurate information found online with their support and expertise.

Why Behavioral Health Professionals Should Tap Into Social Media Tools

Why Behavioral Health Professionals Should Tap Into Social Media Tools

Whether you are a psychiatrist, therapist or psychologist, there will come a time when you ask yourself: Is social media a good idea? While there are certainly challenges to consider, all health care professionals should pay attention to social media and the potential it has as a tool for keeping clients engaged. Here are some reasons why any business should not ignore the value of social media:

  • Keep clients engaged: The mental health field is competitive. To set yourself apart and grow your practice, you need to keep clients engaged — and using social media is one way to do it. To engage with clients via social media, you need to have an active online presence and be open to interaction. Fortunately, this does not mean you need to spend all of your free time logged onto Facebook. For example, once a week, you might post a link to a helpful, relevant article or an inspiring tweet. The key is to keep posts simple, professional and high-quality.
  • Give clients what they want: To stand out from competitors and attract more clients, you need to give customers what they want — this may mean using social media to make it easier for patients to manage their health. For example, according to a report provided by the Health Research Institute, 71% of survey respondents value receiving appointment reminders via social media. Sixty-eight percent appreciate the chance to receive health care-related customer service using social media. Clients are comfortable using social media to manage their health, and there’s reason to believe they might prefer a physician who has an online presence over one who does not.
  • Enhance communication: Social media can lead to equal communication between the client and the physician and make the patient feel more confident in their relationship — this form of communication can also make a client feel more supported and empowered to make positive health choices. Health care professionals are also enjoying online connections — according to one survey, around 60% of physicians prefer to interact with patients through social media to educate them, encourage behavioral changes and monitor their health.
  • Establish yourself as a thought leader: Social media can be an excellent way to establish yourself as an expert. You can post content that’s relevant and generates a lot of questions. You want your followers to recognize your competency and view you as an authority on the subject matter, and ultimately, turn to you for help.
  • Increase transparency: Today’s consumers expect transparency with the companies they choose to do business with, whether they are shopping for a new phone or searching for a therapist. It’s important they feel like they are talking to a human being and someone they can trust. Social media is an effective tool for increasing transparency and showing how much you care about your patients.

Does Social Media Have a Place in EHRs?

Considering that approximately 90% of businesses use social media for marketing purposes, it’s safe to assume it’s not going away soon. So, while it’s clear that social media has a place in business, the ultimate question is: Should social media and EHR software unite?

Health care professionals may feel pressured to utilize social media if they want to keep up with the competition and give clients what they expect. However, there are some concerns and major roadblocks that would need to be addressed before social media could fully integrate with EHR software.

How Social Media Could Impact EHRs and Patient Care

Many patients use social media to gather health-related information and advice, share their symptoms and seek support. Consider the following statistics:

  • Twenty-four percent of consumers use social media to post about health experiences.
  • Eighteen percent of consumers use social media to track and share symptoms.
  • Seventeen percent of consumers post reviews of doctors on social media.

For consumers between the ages of 18 and 24, eighty percent are likely to share health information through social media, and almost 90% would trust the information they found.

So, what does this mean for health care professionals and EHRs? First, a patient might complain of a new symptom to friends on Twitter, but avoid sharing this detail with their doctor. If a doctor accesses patient information via social media, they may be able to gain a better understanding of a client’s condition and how they feel between visits and add their findings to their EHR. This, in turn, can potentially improve patient care.

Also, as long as physicians comply with state and federal privacy laws, they might use social media to answer their patients’ questions and record these exchanges in the EHR. Past studies have shown that supplemental electronic communication between a physician and a patient increases adherence to the doctor’s advice and may improve health outcomes as a result. It also boosts patient satisfaction because they have more time to communicate with their doctors and have their questions answered.

One survey found that 56% of patients wanted their doctors to use social media to answer general questions. Those who did not use social media said they would join if they knew they could use it to connect with their doctor.

Doctors might include a range of communication exchanges and other patient information discovered on social media in the EHR. For example, doctors might learn of a patient’s reaction to a new medication or see if they are following their treatment plan. These insights can be used to keep patients engaged, and it can be just as helpful in treating the patient as any piece of self-reported information. Regardless, it’s recommended that data pulled from social media be seen as supplemental, and not as a replacement for the information gathered during face-to-face interactions.

How It Might Work

Social Media Preferences in Mental and Behavioral Health Treatment

For social media to combine with EHRs successfully, clinicians would need to think about how they’d keep patient information secure, and patients would need to know what is considered personal health information (PHI) and what isn’t.

Anything health care professionals would include in the EHR, whether it’s a tweet or comment, should be treated no differently than other pieces of patient-related information, in terms of regulations and compliance. It would likely be best to keep information gathered from social media separate from other data in the EHR.

EHR software does not need to integrate with Twitter, Facebook or another form of social media to reap the benefits of digital communication. Instead, an EHR might use secure communication tools that look and feel like social media or text messaging to get patients engaged with their health care. This may include appointment reminders sent through texts and user-friendly patient portals. In other words, behavioral health practices and other health care facilities can use social media to inspire their technology choices.

The Challenges

The future of EHR and social media is not yet crystal-clear. Health care providers would need to overcome a range of obstacles before they could integrate social media with their EHR system.

First, it can be difficult to keep professional and personal social media accounts separate, which can potentially put a clinician’s image at risk. There is also the issue of establishing and maintaining boundaries between the health care professional and the patient on social media, and these boundaries may easily become blurred.

Perhaps the greatest challenge of using social media as part of a health care practice is protecting patient privacy. For example, a doctor might breach privacy laws by posting a patient’s comments on a social networking site. Doctors must make sure to remove any identifying information when posting comments about a patient, but even this can be more challenging than one might expect.

Considering the challenges, it’s understandable that 68% of physicians and medical students feel using social media to interact with patients is ethically problematic.

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Today’s behavioral health professionals have a lot to consider beyond in-office patient care. To stay ahead of the competition and retain clients, mental health professionals must think about digital tools and how they can help build patient relationships and improve treatment outcomes.

Although social media presents its challenges regarding EHR, there’s one key thing to remember — it’s not going away. Social media is powerful, and it can inspire the way physicians and therapists interact with their clients and keep them informed. Someday, the combination of social media and EHR might be a regular part of the health care process.

If you would like to learn more about EHR software and how it can help your behavioral health practice improve efficiency and patient satisfaction, please reach out to us at ICANotes. ICANotes is an intuitive EHR software designed uniquely for behavioral health professionals.

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