The ‘Facebook effect’ on radiology

Healthcare is at a crossroads with digital health and social media reinventing how providers and patients communicate and share.

We reached out to radiologists and healthcare thought leaders ahead of the premier radiology event, RSNA. Each year, RSNA brings radiology professionals and industry leaders from around the globe to Chicago. We asked them several questions. Read on for their unique perspectives on the social media impact in healthcare communications, innovation, and patient care.


@MattHawkins is #pediatric interventional #Radiologist @EmoryUniversity. Always learning how to improve the efficiency, #quality, and capability of #healthcare.

With the boom of digital health, connected care, and social media, there’s an increased sharing of information and knowledge for both patients and providers. From your perspective, how do these data-driven changes impact healthcare?

Much of the digital health and social media revolution is impacting healthcare because patients are able to access more information in more ways than was previously possible. Specifically, social media connects patients with rare diseases across geographies and establishes communities that did not previously exist. Additionally, with increasing use of digital health resources, patients are able to track their health over time, thus introducing “trends analysis” to patient consumerism.

These, in addition to other new sources of data, impact how patients expect to find and receive healthcare. If we don’t understand where patients are coming from, we won’t be able to provide adequate care.

Privacy remains among the barriers to physicians embracing the social media revolution. This seems to be changing slowly over time — and it may just take a methodical ground-swell to ultimately alter the behavior of providers as it relates to social media. The other factor that needs to be acknowledged however, is time — or lack thereof. There are simply only so many hours in a day that providers can run a clinical service, respond to email, and meaningfully connect with patients and generate content via social media.

Prof. Tim Leiner is the Professor of Radiology at Utrecht University Medical Center. He tweets about #radiology, #cardiovascular disease and science using the Twitter handle @MRAGuy.

Is there an increased desire or need to understand this digital health revolution and the impact social media now plays in healthcare?

For sure there is. Social media provide unprecedented opportunities to interact with patients and referring clinicians. This will make visible what radiologists do and what they are good at. The digital revolution of machine learning will have far-reaching impact on how radiology is practiced. If radiologists do not embrace this new technology, they will be unpleasantly surprised by it later (instead of “who moved my cheese?” it will be “who moved my radiology?”)

Measuring things more accurately on multiple fronts is really needed for the survival of radiology as a speciality. If radiologists want to be seen as adding value in the diagnostic and therapeutic process they need to learn how to speak the referring clinicians language by structured reporting of both requested and unrequested findings. Also, radiologists need to engage more directly with patients and cater to their questions and concerns (e.g. radiation and contrast agent safety). I am very excited about the future of radiology. The opportunities to make a positive difference for patients have never been greater.

What are the cultural barriers blocking some physicians from readily accepting these technologies and new ways of communication?

Unfamiliarity; time pressures of ongoing work etc. In my opinion, effective communication with patients and consulting specialities should be taught as part of MD and/or radiology training.

Radiologists often think their value lies in pointing out where abnormalities can be seen in the images. In my opinion this is just one of the skills you need to have. Limiting yourself to this is a very narrow interpretation of our profession. The most important place to add value these days is the multidisciplinary conference; this is where decisions are made that are relevant to patients, and radiologists should take an active role in hosting these conferences.

In my department we host over 100 of these every week with about 50 radiologists, fellows and residents. Clinicians really appreciate this. In addition to this it would advise colleagues to let other know what you are doing. What are the things on your mind as a radiologist? Let others know, so they know you have their best interests at heart.

@TirathPatelMD is a budding interventional radiologist that tweets about #radiology economics and policy, and medical education #MedEd.

There’s a lot of emphasis on the ‘engaged patient’ or the ‘empowered patient.’ What’s your view on the increasing awareness and desire that patients have in taking a more active role in their own care/therapy?

Outside of the sciences, social media is increasing awareness of disease. Patients are now able to collaborate with one another to seek out new or experimental treatment avenues and share experiences with living with the disease. It is important for physicians to realize that patients have multiple avenues to gain medical information, and they include not only websites but also each other. Patient advocacy organizations play an important role as well in connecting individuals with similar backgrounds and goals.

I am a fan of patients being engaged and empowered, thereby, taking ownership of their disease. First, it makes delivering healthcare much easier, as patients are aware of their prognosis and are familiar with treatment options. Second, albeit indirectly, it helps physicians cater their care to what is most important to the patient as patients are more willing to verbalize their goals.

‘e-Patient Dave’ deBronkart is one of the world’s leading activists for patient engagement

Some physicians are hesitant to cede knowledge to patients. I am sure most physicians have encountered or heard of patients who come to the clinic or emergency room with printed out sheets of paper from Google search engine or medical website with diagnosis in hand. While I applaud the patient taking the initiative, it can cause difficulty if the physician disagrees with the patient’s pre-formed diagnosis or treatment. Patients may have some knowledge based on their reading but may not have the full context that a medical background imparts. It is important for physicians provide that context such that appropriate healthcare decisions are made collectively.


Bringing together leaders in business, media and patient empowerment, Techonomy’s David Kirkpatrick is hosting ‘Insight Night at RSNA’ to explore how and why digital health and social media will increasingly affect healthcare communications, innovation, patient care and services — with a focus on the changing face of radiology.

If you are planning to attend RSNA this year, you may want to add this to your itinerary. Registration is free. Click below for more details.

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