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The doctor is in … and online, too

3 min read


Seattle-based pediatrician Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson’s best advice to her patients (or as in most cases, the parents of her patients) may be given out long before they step into her office.

Seeking to provide a personable outlet for good medical information important to many of those she sees every day, Swanson writes the Seattle Mama Doc blog for Seattle Children’s Hospital, while also sharing her ideas and brief thoughts on applicable stories via Twitter.

“There’s days where I could say the same thing six times,” Swanson said of the nature of a pediatrician’s or other general-practice physician’s daily routine. “People can read my blog posts and be more prepared for the visits. It’s anticipatory guidance.”

The blog is much more than that for Swanson, however, as she doesn’t just give bland medical advice, but also often relates what she has experienced in her voyage of motherhood.

She said making the blog successful and creating the best opportunity for connecting with patients depends on “a physician being willing to share stories and be transparent about their life. [Social media] helps people remember doctors are human — that these are people providing care.”

Swanson, who describes herself both as enthusiastic and an activist to the cause of social media in health care and finding better ways of communicating with patients, knows what she does now isn’t sustainable — even for herself.

“Through this, I get more of [my patients] than I would normally get,” she said. “It’s a win-win. The only loss is my own personal quality of life.”

Though she practices medicine only part time and devotes the rest of her professional time to social media, both jobs still bleed into her personal life, making long days even longer. For other doctors, Swanson believes there are multiple roadblocks other than the time commitment, including a skepticism about the effect of social media, concerns about patient privacy and a lack of reimbursement for the time spent.

Splitting up social-media duties between doctors in the same office and involving staff to help are good first steps to easing the burden, Swanson said, though providers have to want to be involved for the effort to work. She also takes care to avoid identifying patients if she uses any examples from her practice in her blog, and she will often seek the patient’s permission to use their situation as an example, even though she changes names, genders and other identifying factors when doing so.

However, Swanson admits she doesn’t have all the answers for how social media and health care can co-exist harmoniously — she says she only knows it must.

“There’s a lot of ignorance about this in the medical community,” she said. “Doctors are absolutely pressed for time, and part of that is that we are compensated based on productivity. The more streamlined and efficient we’ve become, the less human we become.”

“My interest lies in that (doctor-patient) relationship and how we can make that better.”

Image credit: bluestocking,  via iStockPhoto