How technology can inform care and treatment

Healthcare professionals should not hold back from interacting with patients on social media, says online expert Michael Seres


In a recent article, the British Medical Journal declared “Let the patient revolution begin”. Well, I have news for you: it has already begun and technology is one of the key reasons why.

According to a report by The Pew Institute, 80 per cent of people who use the internet have used it to search for their own health issues with health now being the second most searched topic. In the UK alone, Facebook took less than five years to reach 50 per cent of the population. When Facebook added an organ donor option to their admin status, it saw a rise of more than 6,000 people signing up for organ donation in one evening.

I have been a long-term chronic patient for 30 years, initially suffering with Crohn’s Disease before intestinal failure led me to a small bowel transplant at The Churchill Hospital, Oxford. I started blogging in the build-up to transplant as a way of keeping people informed of what was happening. Fifteen months later, my blog has more than 60,000 readers and has led directly to patients undergoing a transplant that their medical teams previously did not know existed in the UK.

How I interact with my medical team now is very different to traditional methods. My self-management consists of a suit of digital resources that include a blog, social media, video interaction, texting and e-mail.

Patients are now using YouTube to upload and disseminate practical hints and tips enabling them to make informed decisions. None replace face-to-face meetings, but all make the management of conditions and the interaction with medical teams easier and more efficient.

Last year, the General Medical Council issued guidelines on the use of social media as a valuable tool in patient interaction. Twitter is now influencing healthcare trends, showing a 50 per cent growth in health-related tweets. When NHS Direct launched its mobile app, it had more than one million downloads within six months and went to number one in the iTunes chart immediately upon release.

Remote patient monitoring via sensors is now playing a vital role in managing conditions. Here technology enables patients and doctors to obtain real-time data and react quickly to any changes in medical conditions. 11Health are shortly to launch a sensor for stoma patients called an Ostom-i. This sensor clips on any stoma bag and uses Bluetooth technology to alert that patient, via a mobile device, as their bag fills.

The use of technology is now an integral part of everyday life. It is natural for us to turn to Dr Google when looking to make decisions or finding out information on a health condition. However, a decision in health is a two-way process. The role of the doctor is equally vital and sometimes that is where this process breaks down. So my question is: are healthcare professionals playing their part in using technology to help make decisions?

I suspect the answer is somewhere between “no” and “on occasions”. There continues to be a plethora of articles about physicians using social media. Frustratingly, I believe fear is preventing interaction.

Writer, speaker and consultant, Michael Seres develops social media programmes and online communities, focusing on patient-to-patient and patient-to-doctor interaction within the healthcare sector.