Asking #HIMSS15: How to get healthcare questions answered online (the right way)

Asking #HIMSS15: How to get healthcare questions answered online (the right way)

There are always two sure signs for me that Spring has finally sprung:

  1. The pear trees along the streets in my neighborhood begin to blossom with pride
  2. The annual HIMSS conference takes place.  

My day job is in healthcare technology where I teach healthcare providers how to use things like social media and mobile devices to connect with patients when they are not in the care setting.  In fact, in but a few short hours from the release of this blog post, I will be speaking before a group of a couple of hundred at our industry’s biggest conference (the aforementioned HIMSS conference).  You can check out what’s going on right now using #HIMSS15 on Twitter.  I will also be using #hcsmIRL during my own session when I turn the room into its very own social community.

Such topics are my day job, but I know that there is a big relationship between your physical health and your financial health.  When you take care of your body by way of good nutrition and an active lifestyle, you can bring down your healthcare costs by, literally, tens of thousands of dollars in out of pocket costs across your lifetime.  Likewise, when your financial health is in peril, the anxieties and practicalities of financial uncertainty have a real and lasting impact on your physical health.  

Since I’m at this big conference, surrounded by 40,000 of the best and brightest in healthcare technology, I thought I would ask some of the leading minds in healthcare and social media what advice they would give to those wanting to get their healthcare questions answered online.  Four major themes arose.  Here’s what the experts had to say.

Ask Dr. Google

This is, no doubt, the most popular option for individuals looking for answers to their health problems.  However, it comes at a risk.  We’ve all had those cases where we wanted to find information about an ache or a rash and Dr. Google basically diagnosed us to death.  Fortunately, Google just recently introduced  high-quality medical data into its search engine with the hope that this data will allow for a fact check against all of the other perilous data listed on the search engine.   You can read more about it in this The Verge article entitled “Google adds fact-checked medical information to search“.  

My social media buddies went another step further.  Beverly Heywood Rogers, a clinician active in social media, told me via Facebook,

“I suggest Google Scholar which few people use but is a good way to ‘google’ things which require a bit more academic slant; it’s easy to use. Just google google scholar!”

My friend, and healthcare developer extraordinaire, Lauren Still (@laurencstill) recommended Reddit’s AskDocs feed (with some clear reservations):

“/r/askdocs if you’re feeling lucky, lol.” 

And for those willing to go an extra step for even better information, my good friend Dr. Nick van Terheyden recommends:

“…as a doc I tend to do my own research and reach my own conclusions using a mix of Medscape, NIH website and the NLM and PubMed. Sprinkle in some general google searches but never going much past Page 1 or 2 and then polling out to some of my professional friends if it hits their domain/expertise (think @hjluks for orthopedics as an example).  But that’s me with a medical degree and some background.”

Social Media

Well, I am at the conference talking about social media and how it is used to relay health information to patients, so let’s chat about it now.  This was best summed up by my friend Erica Virginia Johansen (@theGr8Chalupa) when she described how she used social media during pregnancy.

Honestly? My best sources of health info have been through collective groups. (For example, I met a group of women all due the same week last year through a blog/forum and we started a private Facebook group. We would share the day-to-day questions about pregnancy, and now that we have our little ones here, it’s become an amazing community of mothers for more day-to-day experiences. So much of pregnancy and childhood is “normal” so we usually consult each other first then escalate to the MD if a serious second opinion is needed.)

Check Out Online Patient Communities

Take this social conversation a step further, one largely untapped place that contains a groundswell of great healthcare information are online patient communities.  PatientsLikeMe is one of the best known online patient communities, but there are many others out there.  Here is what Dr. Nick has to say about his own use of online patient communities:

“I head to the e-patient boards and communities and try and find like minded/suffering folks to interact with always with my sniff-o-meter on high alert for snake oil (Homeopathy is one of my pet peeves given the serial dilution). I’m open to alternatives and potentially things we don’t understand but not without science.  I recommend checking out the book Trick or Treatment: The Undeniable Facts about Alternative Medicine.”

I have had the great pleasure of knowing the foremost advocate for online patient communities because of our interactions at the yearly HIMSS conference.  “e-Patient Dave” deBronkart (@epatientdave) was originally diagnosed with Stage IV, Grade 4 renal cell carcinoma (kidney cancer) at a very late stage in January 2007 . His prognosis was grim at just 24 weeks, and he had tumors in both lungs, several bones, and muscle tissue.   In addition to his great treatment at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Dave’s primary physician Dr. Danny Sands (who I have also had the chance to meet) prescribed Dave to join an online patient community throughout the course of his treatment.  Through this community he thrived due to this new dynamic in how information is delivered, accessed, and used by patients.  His last treatment was July 23, 2007, and by September it was clear he’d beaten the disease. His remaining lesions have continued to shrink.  

In the meanwhile, because of his experience Dave has become an incredible advocate for patient voices across the internet and across the world.  Dave provides a great list of online patient communities on his website.  You should definitely check it out.

Sign up for Concierge Medicine

For those of us that understand that technology is of centralized importance in the fight to keep us healthy, the industry brings innovations in the world of “concierge medicine”.   Concierge medicine is a new care paradigm that is membership based and holds technology as a central means of communication between patient and clinician.  For a flat monthly fee, you have 24/7 access to your care team via a HIPAA protected portal.  Oftentimes you can use an IM messaging interface to get the information you need.  While each concierge medicine provider is different, there may or may not be additional charges for services like a home visit.   

My great friend John Lynn (@techguy) is a patient of a concierge practice, and he highly recommends that others join as well:

Sign up for a doctor that will see you online or accept your electronic questions.  I use Turntable Health. [They are a] concierge like model, so they like electronic communication.” 

Similarly, one of my good pals Linda Stotsky (@EMRAnswers) is also a fan of concierge medicine

“LOVE the new concierge models like Iora / Turntable – my FAVS. You get the answers you need. Communication means everything when it’s all you’ve got- so video and / or audio tools help.”  

Another good buddy named Steven Davidson (@sjdmd), who is also an emergency room physician gone entrepreneur, added to the conversation to highlight concierge medicine’s current growing pains:

“I like John Lynn’s basic suggestion, but recognize that as I’ve just transitioned to Medicare, and my rebuilding my body efforts occasionally require the ministrations of an orthopedist, I’m looking for a bit more of a team.” 

Join the Conversation

My community has clearly weighed in with three great options for using readily available technologies to make your care better.  What have your experiences been?  I’d love to hear about it in the comments section below.

Melody grew up in poverty, and she was homeless throughout most of her childhood. Even after the hard work of getting out of poverty was accomplished, she still lived in fear of the next bad thing that could happen. She knew that, without the security of a safety net, one misstep would mean certain disaster. It was not until this safety net was established that she truly felt liberated and free from the anxiety of living in poverty once again. She is now motivated to share this sense of freedom with all women.


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