Why *Aren’t* Social Media Tools Used In EMRs?

Like it or not, social media has proven to be the most vital, efficient, inexpensive information-sharing medium in the history of the planet.  From revolutions in Europe to earthquakes in New England, social media has spread news to astonishingly large audiences, many of whom needed little more than a $10 phone to get involved.

Not only that, social media is the best human-knowledge multiplier imaginable. Admit it — even if you hate Twitter, you’ve gotten bits of information there that you’d never, ever find otherwise. And if  you’re like me, that information may well have turned into a host of new insights, which get tweeted and exploded out further. It’s this generation’s version of nuclear fission.

But EMRs, unfortunately, don’t include social media-style sharing.

Why? Well, one obvious reason is that people in the database business, which is how I’d ultimately categorize EMR vendors, are a rather conservative group. (Hey, you can’t have the people managing your most critical data running around with lampshades on their heads.)

Another is that the social media networks are notoriously, terrifyingly insecure — in fact, they’re the ultimate in information exposure. While private social media tools wouldn’t offer access to, say, 500 million Facebook users, the idea still lingers in peoples’ minds.

But I think the issue runs deeper than that. The truth is, the database is a linear concept, even if its design is fluid. The intention, even if someone stacks decision support tools on it, is ultimately to make sure that enterprises have all their data ducks in a row.

Social media aims at those ducks, shoots them and blows away the feathers. Its purpose is to continually remake how information is correlated — to create new contexts for knowledge rather than associate pieces of existing knowledge with each other. In the final analysis, social media information sharing does what databases wish they could do.

I say, it’s time that EMR vendors get over themselves and start using the massive scalability, context-generating capabilities and info-sharing tools social media offers. Isn’t that just what we need?

After all, hospitals don’t exist just to collect patient data; ideally, they leverage it to improve the practice of medicine as a whole. And how better to learn new things than to adopt an approach known to redefine assumptions on a daily basis?

Why aren’t we demanding that EMRs include social media mechanisms for sharing patient data, say, in the cloud, so elegant that they’d make Biz Stone cry?  Where is the impatience? The sense of outrage, even? It beats me.

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.


  • “But EMRs, unfortunately, don’t include social media-style sharing.”
    Some EMR’s do 🙂 – We introduced Twitter DM’s to patients for alerts and reminders from the clinkare Physician EMR earlier this year and extended it to the clinION Small Hospital EMR this month.

    An exchange built on the collaborative analytics from the clinkare EMR’s is being prototyped … which I believe is a true social data model in itself …

  • I don’t think you can rule out the physician in my social media hasn’t worked with EHR’s. Doctor’s are notoriously slow to adopt new technologies. Hence one of the major problems we’re having with the adoption rate overall.

    Are physicians generally on social media? I only see the outliers. But I would be thrilled to be wrong in this vase.

  • Dan,

    Doctors are not notoriously slow to adopt new technologies. Physicians are more likely, for example, to own an iPad than any other professional. I routinely investigate and incorporate the latest technology in acute trauma care, if it works.

    EMRs don’t work. Our workflow is far more complex that that of, say, a bank. We are choosy in what we adopt, but are definitely not Luddites.

    And the reason we tend not to occupy social media is because of privacy laws and the constant fear of litigation. Comments taken out of context on social media have been used against physicians in court cases.

    The problem with the adoption rate of EMRs, as I have maintained for years, is the sorry state of the industry and the complete lack of regard for physician workflow. When the technology makes our work safer or more productive, you won’t be able to stop us from using EMR.

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