Patients are central to healthcare delivery, yet all too often their perspectives and input have not been considered by providers.1 ,2 This is beginning to change rapidly and is having a major impact across a range of dimensions. Patients are becoming more engaged in their care and patient-centred healthcare has emerged as a major domain of quality.3–6
At the same time, social media in particular and the internet more broadly are widely recognised as having produced huge effects across societies. For example, few would have predicted the Arab Spring, yet it was clearly enabled by media such as Facebook and Twitter. Now these technologies are beginning to pervade the healthcare space, just as they have so many others. But what will their effects be?
These three domains—patient-centred healthcare, social media and the internet—are beginning to come together, with powerful and unpredictable consequences. We believe that they have the potential to create a major shift in how patients and healthcare organisations connect, in effect, the ‘perfect storm’, a phrase that has been used to describe a situation in which a rare combination of circumstances result in an event of unusual magnitude creating the potential for non-linear change.7
Historically, patients have paid relatively little attention to quality, safety and the experiences large groups of other patients have had, and have made choices about where to get healthcare based largely on factors like reputation, the recommendations of a friend or proximity.8 Part of the reason for this was that information about quality or the opinions of others about their care was hard to access before the internet.
Today, patients appear to be becoming more engaged with their care in general, and one of the many results is that they are increasingly using the internet to share and rate their experiences of health care. They are also using the internet to connect with others having similar illnesses, to share experiences, and beginning to manage their illnesses by leveraging these technologies. While it is not yet clear what impact patients’ use of the internet and social media will have on healthcare, they will definitely have a major effect.
Healthcare organisations have generally been laggards in this space—they need to start thinking about how they will use the internet in a variety of ways, with specific examples being leveraging the growing number of patients that are using the internet to describe their experiences of healthcare and how they can incorporate patient's feedback via the internet into the organisational quality improvement process.