A patient’s journey in the digital age


Social media has profoundly influenced every aspect of our life. But what is the impact of social media on health information?

MOST healthcare professionals are yet to fully embrace social media platforms for patient care but there is no doubt that this is where we are heading – so now is the time to address some major issues. A key question to explore is – can social media really direct patients to secure communication channels and help them access health data? So far, it is certainly a promising tool that can support patients in their quest for the health information. For a start, with the government’s latest attempt to create a paperless health service and improve the use of IT in healthcare, accessing health records should now be possible via patient portals.

Patient engagement via portals is a part of government policy and a means of involving patients in their own care. These portals pull together health information from different health provider channels into one common platform and make it securely accessible to the patients. Recently, the Royal College of General Practitioners, in partnership with the Royal College of Nursing, published Patient Online, a guide to the online portals being implemented by the NHS.

The online patient Connecting online can help to build a better physician-patient relationship. The benefits for patient engagement have been highlighted by research in Scotland and elsewhere.  Of course, merely making a portal available at a healthcare facility is just the first step.  Implementation is the next challenge. Getting any patient to use a portal, does tend to be an issue, particularly if they are not ‘techno-savvy’.

Most patients are looking for a consumer-like tool – like the online shopping they are more familiar with. Therefore, there is a need to educate patients about how online health portals work and the benefits. Portal limitations cannot be ignored. Capabilities such as registration, appointment scheduling, billing, access to lab results, image uploads, repeat prescription requests and alerts are all possible. But how much and what kind of data should the patient be in control of? Can patients request a repeat prescription without having seen the doctor in person, for example? Which of the above elements are ethical to provide? And can portals ensure patient confidentiality and privacy?

A final aspect is the extent of patient portal adoption among so-called ‘Millennials’ versus Baby Boomers, ie, does age make a difference when it comes to the willingness and/ or ability to become an online patient?

I hope this gives you a glimpse of how patient care may evolve with social media and spark off some ideas and debate.


Patient Online. http://stfi.re/rjgarjx

Healthcare Improvement Scotland. Social media and e-participation in NHS Scotland.  http://stfi.re/exolvlo

Healthcare patient portals: Millennials vs Baby Boomers. http://stfi.re/rjgvney

Engage! Transforming healthcare through digital patient engagement. http://stfi.re/vnwgypj