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It’s my first time attending the pre-HIMSS CHIME forum for CIOs. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson’s presentation on “Physicians and Patients in the Time of Twitter” definitely wasn’t it. Swanson is a pediatrician at Seattle Children’s Hospital (her Twitter handle is @seattlemamadoc, if you’re curious) who took to the internet with a blog and a battery of social media presences to reach her patients—or, more often, their parents—in the medium they use most for discovering health information.

Initially, I wasn’t sure her talk would have anything in it for radiology. Radiology and pediatrics, as specialties, could hardly have less in common—unless, like Swanson’s husband, you happen to be a pediatric radiologist—and it’s hard to imagine patients taking to the web in droves to get more information about their imaging procedures.

Or is it?

Searching for health information is the third-most common use of the internet, according to research by the Pew Internet and American Life Project. The majority of Swanson’s talk addressed the problem that this figure exposes. What does it say about health care in this country that people would rather rely on Google than on a qualified professional with a decade-plus of education and training? Physicians are simply too difficult, and costly, to access. And it’s not their fault—as Swanson noted, they need to be compensated for increased communication with patients.

Sounds pretty familiar, right? We’ve been talking about this in the radiology world for some time, wondering how radiologists can get in front of patients without sacrificing their ever-shrinking share of reimbursement dollars.

Swanson makes the case that social media—be it Facebook, Twitter, or one of the emerging sites catering to the health care community—can fill this role by giving clinicians a fast and distributed means of communicating vital information to patients. And it’s not just a primary care thing. One of her examples of clinicians who are doing this now is Dr. Howard Luks ( @hjluks), an orthopedist who gives surgery, scheduling and research advice through his social media presences.

“We can create repositories of information that we can share with patients later, reducing the amount of time that we have to spend with them in the exam space,” Swanson noted.

Still skeptical? Two more points: Swanson observed that physicians can also take the pulse of their patient community by leveraging social media (give “radiation” a search on Twitter and you’ll see exactly what she means). She also noted that whether we like it or not, patients are getting online for their health information. Where would you prefer they get their information on radiation dose?

“Your patients and communities deserve it, and I really don’t think you have a choice,” she concluded. “Everyone else is already using these means to get their ideas out.”

(By the way, you can follow us on Twitter at @imagingbiz.)