The Wicked Health Care Webs We Weave

October 26, 2010

Never shy retiring wallflowers, the Health Care Social Media (HCSM) group on Twitter pitched a flurry of ideas on what ideal features they would wish to see on their doctors’ Web sites during their October 24th, 2010 chat.  Given that not many doctors even have Web portals, the exercise itself is somewhat ambitious. Nevertheless, the enthusiasm and the breadth of imagination provided by this crowdsourcing exercise makes clear that the demand is present and that there is much that health care providers can do improve the current model.

Here is a synopsis of what the HCSM tweeting participants suggested:

  • Trustworthiness — @foxepratice and @marksphone urged that a doctor’s site be, “a trusted resource for knowledge and community, in the broadest sense. In one example, @pfanderson suggested that links to government sites related to the physician’s specialty be provided.
  • Convenience — @RichmondDoc suggested that a doctor’s site can be a place where patients can, “review/discuss labs, e-mail, and maybe schedule appts.” @DrJonathan went one step further: “I like when practice websites offer new patients to fill out all necessary forms online before their 1st appt.” That idea was roundly supported in the HCSM circle. The popularity of this idea was only exceeded by @ddiamond’s yearning for online scheduling ala the OpenTable model: “If a yoga studio can do it, why not an MD?”
  • Security — This attribute was echoed by nearly everyone in the HCSM chatroom, ensuring that HIPAA protection was provided on their physician’s Web site. Specifically, the group noted that a secure portal was a minimum requirement, bolstered by a clear notification of the doctor’s privacy policy.
  • Basic Information Provision — For some, simply providing hours of operation,  and contact information (including emergency contact details) was considered a good start.
  • Accessibility — This hallmark was interpreted in various ways as an essential quality of a doctor’s Web site, from being interactive and easy to navigate (as @thehealthmaven requested) to providing true accessibility to people with physical challenges (as @Healthpolicygrp noted).
  • Beneficial — @nickdawson suggested that, “it should do something or be of value for me and get out of the way of finding info.” Echoing this point, @MeriLizzie argued for information on rare conditions that affect dental health from dentists. @pfanderson commented that the site could also offer, “Tips to make yr visit more useful / tips on when to call the doc/when not.”
  • Outcome Reportability — @Marksphone urged that the doctor’s Web site gather patient entered data for better tracking and long-term outcome assessment.

@pfanderson boiled down these recommendations in pithy fashion. The ideal doctor’s site must indicate, ” How2FindMe; WhoIAm/WhatIDo; WhatIWantU2Know; People/Places/Info I Respect; MyCredentials/Memberships; Personal/Hobbies.”

These suggestions are not merely blue-sky chatter.  Many in the group stated in point-blank fashion that a physician unwilling to even create a Web site meant that the doctor was behind the times and not likely to meet their needs. To quote  @susangiurleo, “No website, I won’t be a patient. Lack of online presence makes me think they are out of touch.” As patients grow more empowered in their health care management, doctors are well advised to integrate this “wish list” of web-centric elements into their medical tool kit. Their success and viability may depend on it.
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