Well Child Chats: Thinking about the role of pediatricians on the internet

At Dartmouth College (my alma mater), there were “fireside chats” where students can connect with various professors outside of the classroom for discussion. I don’t know if they still exist, but the concept continues to inspire me.

The idea of ongoing discussion and communication outside the defined and traditional setting of clinical practice inspires me as well. As a pediatrician at a community health center, my primary work exists within two exam rooms where I see patients and my sphere of influence is limited by both time and the number of patients I can see. What would it look like to be able to step beyond those concrete boundaries? And how would that impact the art of practicing medicine today?

With social media and internet, there are new possibilities for the role of a physician in health advocacy and patient education. Clearly people are using the internet and the advice of others to guide their decision-making. All the more so amongst parents, old and new. What role does the pediatrician play now? Are pediatricians effective in providing support and advice, especially when well child visits are so limited in time?

I have been asking these questions a lot lately. I’m not sure I know the answers. At first, I didn’t think these questions applied to my patient population because the majority didn’t seem to even have internet access at home. However, with the shifting landscape of healthcare access over the past couple years, I believe things have changed. I am seeing more patients who do seem to want internet resources and links. I am also seeing many teens who are willing to find out more info on the internet, either for themselves or to help their parents who cannot speak English (and some who cannot read). I’ve had many young first-time parents with questions about things they’ve read on the internet or heard from friends via Facebook.

Although the internet cannot and will never replace a solid trustworthy relationship between patient and doctor, I do feel that the medical field could better utilize the internet to widen its impact on health and advocacy, as well as patient satisfaction. Much like the connection and discussion fostered by the “fireside chats” at Dartmouth, I would love for patients to have a sense of connection with their doctor. Especially in a society that tends to move around, switch jobs, communicate in text, and spend free time in cyberspace. It doesn’t mean that a physician is available at any given hour via the internet. It doesn’t mean that patients no longer need to make follow-up appointments. But it does mean that we as physicians can strive to communicate in new ways that may be more effective with the changing times. Is it ideal? I don’t know. Is it necessary? I do believe so.

Although it may be useful for only some of my patients, I have decided to set up a website where I can write about topics I wish I could spend more time discussing during well child checks. I have called it Well Child Chats. Consider it ongoing anticipatory guidance in small chunks. Much like the fireside chats in college, I hope it fosters a sense of community and connection. I want parents to know that these topics and their child’s well-being matters to me enough to write about it and make it available. I also hope it empowers parents to feel like they can ask questions and know that their pediatrician wants to help them find answers.

Come over and check out Well Child Chats. I will write about medical topics there. Personal reflections and stories will remain here at One Family Table.

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