October 6, 2017

The (New) Pediatrician’s (New) Handshake

By Wendy Sue Swanson, MD

Bringing the Social Media #Revolution to Health Care coverEditor's Note: This essay is part of our weekly #TimeLessWisdom series, in which we're highlighting one of the contributions from our 2012 book, Bringing the Social Media Revolution to Health Care. Learn more about the series.

One of my mentors in residency told me the pediatrician’s handshake was different. Instead of grasping a child’s palm, pediatricians touch the top of a baby’s head, feeling the fontanelle or 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 and is now different because of opportunities afforded by social media and innovative technology.

As a doctor, I firmly believe I have an obligation share my expertise and my experiences in understanding pediatrics online. Technology simply makes it easier. Medicine is far from static; being online allows me to share what I learn every week with my patients.

And my patients are online far more often than they are with me in the office, so instead of only exchanging ideas when they gown-up in exam room #4, I can join them where they already are—in social networks, on the Internet, on their smart phones, and on YouTube. The educational space extends beyond the examining room.

I also understand patients want intimate, personal, responsive, and empathetic care from doctors. All medicine can’t be practiced online. To accommodate this reality, I work part time seeing patients in a traditional clinic setting and part time using tools like Twitter, my blog, LinkedIn, Doximity, and YouTube to share what I know. Or what I’m learning.

In my mind, it’s obvious how technology builds a bond for my patients and for me. This isn’t one-sided; rather it’s bidirectional. Through social media, I feel more connected with science, with my mission to cure children, and with my patients. I give lots to technology. I get and learn far more in return. I would suspect my patients would echo this sentiment.

Technology provides these two essentials in my world as a pediatrician, mom, wife, and community member:

  1. Sharing. I share thoughts about new research, new opinions, and new trends and controversies in parenting and pediatrics. I share my stum- bles as a parent. Physicians share opinions all day; sharing online is arguably no different. Families in my practice (and others outside of it) can follow my online content year round and access what I think about new research or controversial parenting topics.
  2. Education. I’m an educator by profession (pediatrician, former middle school teacher, mom). Innovations like Google Body allow me to use advancing technologies to demonstrate, teach, and inform families why their child is ill or in pain or how they’ll heal. I send parents to my blog since it offers comprehensive detail regarding the rationale behind my recommendations. For example, why do I say no to Tylenol when kids get shots? Why do I think it’s essential to keep kids rear-facing in car seats until age two? In the 15-20 minute visit I’m allowed in practice, there simply won’t be time to review everything. My blog serves as a repository of my advice and where I think science holds answers to help us make great decisions for our children.

 Wendy Sue Swanson, M.D. is a pediatrician in Seattle, Wash. and a Platinum Fellow in the Mayo Clinic Social Media Network.

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