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Doctors Use Social Media To Make Virtual House Calls

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Few remember that doctors used to make house calls back in the 1940s and 1950s.  But, the spirit of that service is still alive and well thanks to social media –– some doctors are embracing the online world and using it to connect to patients.

As expectant mom Kristi Francisco nears her due date, time with her obstritrician, Dr. Jeff Livingston, is at a premium.  But, the Grapevine mother knows a way she can ask him a question anytime, anywhere.

"If my grocery store and my favorite restaurant is on Facebook, then my doctor should be as well," Francisco said.

Dr. Livingston agrees. He's one of only a few north Texas doctors who has embraced the social media world.

"If we want to make a connection, we need to talk to them in the way that they want to talk to us," said Dr. Livingston.

In between delivering babies and seeing patients, Dr. Livingston hops onto the MacArthur OBGYN Facebook and Twitter pages to answer questions posted by patients.  One, for instance, asked how soon one can find out a baby's gender.  Another poster wanted to know if you can eat fish while pregnant.

"In one post on Facebook, I was able to reach 2,000 people and people got the health information they needed," Dr. Livingston said.

And, for Dr. Livingston, learning through social media is a two-way street.  In March, after treating several women for miscarriages, he posted a question himself asking his patients how they coped with their loss, and what they'd like to hear from their doctor.

"We had 15 comments from patients, real patients, who told their stories," he said. "You can see where the patients are learning from each other, but as a doctor, I got better."

Dr. Livingston travels all over the world in an effort to educate other doctors about incorporating social media into their practices.  He says it can only help bridge the gap between doctors and patients and make everyone more comfortable talking about health-related issues.

"The more our patients understand that we're human, that we're people I think the easier it is for us to connect in the office," he said.

Because of strict HIPAA laws, Dr. Livingston is very adamant that no patient information is ever discussed openly on social media.  In fact, his practice uses a secured, HIPAA compliant e-mail program which patients can use in order to ask more personalized questions.

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