Lorenzo Patrone is an interventional radiologist from the West London Vascular and Interventional Center. Earlier, he was invited to join a Facebook group run by patients diagnosed with Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD), a medical condition which restricts blood flow to their lower limbs. 

Upon joining, Patrone realized he was overwhelmed with enquires from those who are in need of further advice or second opinion across the whole of UK. “It’s been a real eye-opener in terms of the power of a social media in bringing people together and I’m not aware of any medical colleagues in my specialism using it in this way. It’s a fantasticway of giving patients more choice,” Patrone told Digital Health

The center is the first in the country, which attempts to bring vascular surgeons and interventional radiologists together so that patients can enjoy a wider range of medical services all under one roof. After the initial success with social media, the center is now planning to install two fixed theatre cameras to record various cases and hopefully, being able to live-stream procedures and even operations during webinars and conferences. 

A patient-driven social media 

56-year-old William Smith from Aberdeen, Scotland, was one of the first patients who benefitted from Patrone’s Facebook advice. Smith had one of his legs amputated below knee three years ago and was warned twice he might be at high risk of losing his other limbs. After an exchange with Patrone via the PAD support group, he decided to come to London for minimally invasive treatment. He has now regained some feeling in his leg. 

Smith said this was probably the best decision he had ever made as he was so perturbed by pain previously, to the extent that he could not sleep and lead a normal life. He now sees the value of patients joining a Facebook support group and speaks with those who are in a similar position. He feels patients should consider a second opinion because it’s their rights to do so, and “hopefully, find someone like Lorenzo and his team”. 

Surely, Patrone and Smith are not alone, Sean Matheiken, Consultant Vascular Surgeon at Benford Hospital NHS (National Health Service) Trust and Digital Health Innovator also believes in connecting with patients via social media. He even suggested to share vital and authentic medical information online. He terms it as “patient-driven SoMe”. 

In an interview with AIMed this May, Matheiken said, “most people will be familiar with a surgical experience being described to them, but they seldom see a depiction of it, let alone a video or a transcription of dialogues in those settings. If those are made available, someone who is about to undergo the same procedure could gain greater insight”. 

At the moment, such sharing or dialogues only take place among very few high-profile physicians or surgeons, often via TV or their prominent personal social media channels. Furthermore, patients and medical professionals don’t necessarily use the same SoMe platforms, while the former may opt for Twitter or Facebook, the latter tend to prefer LinkedIn or ResearchGate. 

Not changing the way healthcare is being delivered

As such, Matheiken suggested if the information – be it video record of a surgery or photographs taken during an out-patient consultation – is kept in a shared, secure database that both patient and physician have access to but only the patient has the authority to allow that information to be utilized or re-shared, it opens up a number of new avenues for fruitful social interactions.

Matheiken thought we might be at the worst of both worlds at the moment. “On one hand, there is a profusion of misleading information about healthcare on SoMe. On the other hand, professionals feel uncomfortable or reticent about directly engaging with patient-focused social media in many clinical disciplines”. 

Therefore, a patient-driven system will not only empower patients’ control over their consent by giving them greater retention upon it over the infinite timeline of SoMe. It will increase the quality of medical information made available. After the patient had shared the content, physicians can then have the option of providing explanations on the technical details or clarifying any doubts the viewers or readers may have. 

Nevertheless, Matheiken added this will not change the way core care delivery is provided. It is more about utilizing the opportunities to share good quality, verified, reliable content within professionals who wish to learn or patients who wish to be better acquainted with their health matters. 

The full interview with Mr. Sean Matheiken can be found between pages 64 and 65, Volume 2, Issue 3 of AIM Magazine

Author Bio
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Hazel Tang

A science writer with data background and an interest in the current affair, culture, and arts; a no-med from an (almost) all-med family. Follow on Twitter.