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  • September 29 2011

    The New Doctor-Patient Handshake

    Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson is scheduled to speak at 8 a.m. on Oct. 10 during the Cerner Health Conference. We encourage you to check out her blog and follow her on Twitter.

    One of my mentors in residency told me that the pediatrician handshake was different, unique, and instinctive. Instead of grasping a child's palm firmly, the handshake is the ritual of touching the top of a baby or toddler's head, palpating the anterior fontanelle (soft spot). Often, it's one of the first things we do when we meet our new patients.

    As I see it, our handshake is changing again thanks to the opportunities afforded by social media and innovative technology. As a practicing pediatrician, I firmly believe I have an ethical obligation to share my expertise and my experience in pediatrics online. As a doctor, technology simply makes it easier. Social networks really can ease communication between my patients and me.

    But so far, it's difficult. Concerns about security, professional roles, and imperfect platforms stand in my way. Yet the truth remains: medicine is far from static and being online allows me to share what I learn every week with my patients even when they are outside of the exam room. Instead of only hearing about new research and health news from traditional media, they can hear about it from me.

    My friend Susannah Fox from The Pew Internet Project studies the social impact of the internet. Her data confirms my instinct: our patients are online, talking amongst themselves about their health and searching for good health information. She talks about peer-to-peer health care, how “a wealth of information from peers [can] supplement the wealth of information from specialists.” Her data finds:

    • 75% of adults in the US have internet access, 95% of teens in the US have internet access, while 6 out of 10 adults go online wirelessly.
    • Half of all US adults use a social networking site.
    • 80% of US internet users are searching for health information online.

    I contend I must be online; I want to marry my perspective and expertise with that of my patients and community. Join me on October 10 to hear my perspectives on how technology can connect patients with their clinicians. And, Experience the Possible that awaits us all, as doctors and as patients.

    Dr. Swanson is a practicing pediatrician and the mother of two young boys. She's passionate about improving the way media discusses pediatric health news and influences parents' decisions when caring for their children.

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