I recently wrote an article entitled "Social Networking: The Future of Health Care" for United Advantage— United Healthcare's quarterly newsletter. As a result, I have been invited by another large health insurer to come in and speak about how social networking will effect their industry.
I have a great deal to say about the topic, but one of the most important things I intend to tell the company's executives is that social networking will profoundly change the nature of the doctor-patient relationship.
It is already well documented that many patients are becoming better informed prior to visiting their providers. Nevertheless, as the amount of medical information continues to proliferate (which will lessen the doctor's status as the "expert" because they will be unable to stay abreast of all of the latest findings and research) and as patient networks — such as PatientsLikeMe — become stronger; the relationship between the doctor and the patient is going to become more balanced. To be successful, the provider must recognize the client more as a partner and less as a patient. To be successful in the future, providers must unlearn the old way of doing business which, in many cases, placed the doctor on a pedestal.
To continue to be a valuable resource to the patient, providers must engage their own social networks to query other providers who can help diagnose and offer potential treatments. The net effect is that more diagnoses and treatments and will be "crowd-sourced" in the future. This may be threatening to many doctors and specialists but if they really want to help their patients they have to check their ego at the door.
Lastly, providers and patients alike need to understand that social networking will not only open up better and stronger lines of communications, new social networking sites can be used in innovative ways to engage patients in healthier and more enjoyable treatments. For example, think of patients at risk of diabetes engaging other at-risk patients in their neighborhood to form walking or exercise clubs.
The future is evolving fast. As I have said before — and will say again — to first survive and then thrive, it will be essential to unlearn.