That’s what Dr. Eric Topol said earlier this month at the American College of Healthcare Executives’ annual Congress on Healthcare Leadership.

Social media has become so rich, accessible and easy-to-use that it is meeting the demand of patients, particularly those with chronic conditions, for the experiences of others like them to guide their own decisions.

Peer-to-peer health information is becoming more influential than a physician’s advice, Topol said. (If you weren’t at the Congress, you can read Modern Healthcare’s account of Dr. Topol’s 90-minute presentation here, you will need to register, but it’s free).

The doctor is no longer the gatekeeper but a participant, a very authoritative and influential one, in a big and complex ongoing conversation.

Studies bear this out.

Wendy Macias and Liza Stavchansky Lewis found evidence in their 2004 work that many Americans believe the Internet is a better source for health information than health care providers.

The 2009 Pew Internet Project found 42% of Americans had been helped by following medical advice online.

An iCrossing Survey found 64 percent of respondents perform searches for health information at least once a month, 11 percent once a week, 12 percent two or more times a week.

In her July, 2010 article in Computer Magazine Professor Mari Carmen Domingo of Barcelona Tech University points to an “increasing reliance on physician and patient social networks, which promise to transform healthcare management,” echoing Dr. Topol

“Some additional contributions not related with the velocity of the conversations are the possibility to bring together people who would not otherwise have the opportunity to meet and share experiences,” she said in a conversation with EVC Group.

That means communicators need to respect the ability of empowered e-patients to impact an expanding part of the healthcare economy as they join physicians as networked managers of their own treatment and wellness.

For companies that need to communicate their unique value for patients, EVC Group says:

- Tell more patient-facing stories that better reach e-patients through social media.

- Listen to what e-patients are saying and how they react to your communications.

- Participate in the social media conversation, at the very least, don’t be distinguished by your absence.


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