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  • October 11 2011

    CHC 2011 General Session Recap: Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson

    On Oct. 10, 2011, Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson spoke during the Monday General Session at the Cerner Health Conference. Below is a recap of her presentation.

    Blogger, mother and pediatrician Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, said doctors must start using social media to reach out to patients and parents in her General Session address Monday at the Cerner Health Conference. Citing the Pew Research Center, Dr. Swanson said 65 percent of Americans participate in a social network and 80 percent of Internet users look up health information.

    “We cannot just see our patients in the exam room,” said Dr. Swanson, who shares personal anecdotes about her family together with scientific information on her blog, Seattle Mama Doc. She's also active on Twitter under the username @SeattleMamaDoc.

    “We need to be where people are,” she said in her presentation, “Fundamental Partnerships: Regaining Trust in the Time of Twitter.” Dr. Swanson told a packed crowd at the Kansas City Convention Center that when she was a resident, she learned about the “pediatrician handshake,” in which a doctor places his or her hand on an infant's head to feel the soft spot.

    Now, she said, “I think the handshake is changing.”

    Clinicians need to experience using Twitter, Facebook and YouTube videos to interact with patients, she said. Doctors also must be willing to share more of themselves to create a true partnership for better care.

    “We have the great fortune to live in a time when we can communicate outside these walls,” said Dr. Swanson, who also works as a pediatrician in private practice twice a week.

    The voice of science

    Patients and parents alike are bombarded with information from a plethora of sources, Dr. Swanson said. As a result, people confuse individual experience with expertise. Doctors have a responsibility to help patients and parents sift through the information they read, see and hear — to be the “voice of science,” she said.

    “If we don't tell our stories, we can't compete,” she said.

    Twitter was an invaluable resource for Dr. Swanson during the H1N1 scare in 2009. One of the country's first documented cases occurred in Washington state — in her office — and she kept up with the latest treatment recommendations through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Twitter feed.

    Getting the word out

    Sometimes, Dr. Swanson uses her blog to communicate ahead of the news cycle. When she learned about a new study that found children should stay rear-facing in their car seats up to age 2, instead of age 1, she published a post about it 15 months before the study was published in an academic journal.

    Dr. Swanson often personalizes her posts on her blog to better connect with readers. Instead of just writing about why everyone in a health care organization should get a flu shot, she included photos of herself getting her flu shot.

    “I want people to trust their doctors,” she said.

    After her speech, attendees praised Dr. Swanson's vision and her sense of humanity.

    “As a mother, health care professional and clinician, Dr. Swanson's passion for what she does clearly comes through,” said Julie DeVries, BSN, RN, director of clinical informatics at Somerset Medical Center in Somerville, N.J. “I appreciate and hope we can all apply what she said about how listening is key to relationships and building a partnership with your patients, your family and your community.”

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