Improving glaucoma patient adherence with social media

March 1, 2015

Social media platforms are popular, multiplying, and potentially a way to reach patients with reliable information that could help build doctor-patient relationships and improve adherence to glaucoma medication.

Take-home message:

 

Social media platforms are popular, multiplying, and potentially a way to reach patients with reliable information that could help build doctor-patient relationships and improve adherence to glaucoma medication.

 

By Nancy Groves; Reviewed by Robert M. Schertzer, MD, MEd, FRCSC

 

Hanover, NH-Social media could be a means for ophthalmologists to improve adherence in glaucoma patients, according to Robert M. Schertzer, MD, MEd, FRCSC.

This form of information exchange could create better informed and more engaged patients, and a stronger doctor-patient relationship, all fostering greater adherence in glaucoma patients, said Dr. Schertzer, assistant professor of surgery, Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH.

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While optometrists and the ophthalmic industry are already very active in social media, ophthalmologists are not, Dr. Schertzer said.

However, most ophthalmologists are by now accustomed to patients who arrive for appointments armed with questions based on what they’re read on Google, WebMD, Wikipedia, online support groups, Twitter, and other sources. Doctors also may have discovered firsthand or from colleagues that patients use social media and ratings sites to both praise and criticize their healthcare providers.

It’s time for ophthalmologists to venture deeper into social media to help disseminate more reliable information, a step toward improving adherence, said Dr. Schertzer.

NEXT: Where to start

 

Offering a social media primer, Dr. Schertzer began with Facebook, the most familiar to many people even if they don’t regularly use it. Facebook can be used in many ways, including to publicly comment on a provider’s skills or bedside manner, but it is also an important venue for online patient support groups.

On the Glaucoma Patient Group site, for example, newly diagnosed patients may reveal how frightened they are of this disease, emotions that they kept in check in the doctor’s presence. A better understanding of what their patients are experiencing could help ophthalmologists communicate more effectively with them.

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However, choose your online remarks carefully.

“It’s important if you’re participating in these forums to never give specific recommendations,” Dr. Schertzer said. “Always speak in general terms, (and) don’t comment on that particular patient’s case because of course you didn’t see them and examine them.”

Twitter is “a good site for getting a pulse of the moment, but it’s like drinking from a fire hose in terms of getting information because so much is being tweeted at any given second,” he said. “Interactions are possible, but it all gets lost in the noise of so much activity.” To narrow the flow to more specific information, “cull” the feeds using apps like Flipboard or websites like Paper.li.

Goggle+ is widely available on most mobile devices and can provide a platform for home pages, communities, information sharing, polling, and other functions. However, Google+ is underused.

“Information isn’t very useful if we’re not involved in it,” Dr. Schertzer said.

NEXT: Other platforms

 

Blogs, websites, and RSS feeds are other popular forms of social media. One of the best ways to present reliable information is to establish your own website rather than comment on discussions on other sites, Dr. Scherzer suggested. A comment section can be included on a practice website to provide a more controlled forum for patients to discuss their medical concerns.

Blogs may look similar to websites, but are more likely to be built around regularly updated articles. If an ophthalmologist has the time to write regular blog posts, this can be an effective way of sharing information with interested patients. An RSS feed is a format for delivering current information, often news-related content. Feedly, an RSS news-reader is a tool that an ophthalmologist could use to obtain new articles, which could then be shared with colleagues or patients through Twitter, Google+, or other services. For professional contacts and interaction, including job searches, LinkedIn is the preferred online social network.

Crowdsourcing is also a popular social media concept, a method of obtaining services, ideas, or content from the online community. Facebook, Twitter, and Goggle+ can be used for this, but for professional use, doctors could try an app called SharePractice. This is a collaborative clinical reference and information-sharing tool, which patients can also access.

“Socialized researching,” Dr. Scherzer said, has also arrived and can take place on platforms such as ResearchGate and Reddit. ResearchGate locates and lists all of an author’s articles and also provides links to others who have published similar work. On Reddit, doctors can post articles of interest to them. Readers who follow a particular doctor can comment on these articles and vote them up or down.

“It’s another great way to interact with your colleagues,” Dr. Schertzer said.

Although ResearchGate restricts its access to those with scientific credentials, Reddit provides open access to anyone. One example is http://www.reddit.com/r/talkingaboutglaucoma.

“We live in an age where patients and physicians have easy access to an abundance of information about medical conditions, a lot of which is useful, including the latest research papers, but some of which is not scientifically vetted,” Dr. Schertzer said. “Our patients will show better adherence to treatment if armed with valid information that helps them work with their eye care providers to make the best treatment choices.

NEXT: Conclusion

 

    

Also, by connecting them with other patients who are being treated, they can get some validation from their peers about their treatment, including knowing whether a given treatment helped others and had minimal side effects,” he continued. “As eye care providers, by getting involved with social media, we can help make sure that reliable information is being shared with our patients, which should help them understand the benefits of adhering to their treatment.”

 

Robert M. Schertzer, MD, MEd, FRCSC

603-650-8755

Robert.M.Schertzer@dartmouth.edu

Dr. Schertzer has no financial interests.

This article was adapted from Dr. Schertzer's presentation at the 2014 meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmology.