Repeated run-ins with insurance companies can infuriate David Rubin, MD. As chief of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition at the University of Chicago Medicine, he is invested in helping his patients with inflammatory bowel disease.
So when insurance companies refuse to cover his patients’ medications, Rubin turns to an untraditional platform for physicians: Twitter.
Last year, he took the side of a patient in remission for Crohn’s. When she switched jobs, her new insurance provider denied coverage of a medication that helped keep her stable. That treatment sent Rubin on a Twitter rampage.
“UNITED HEALTHCARE denies patients who are in STABLE REMISSION on effective therapy their meds even with peer-to-peer discussion. Pass it on,” Rubin wrote in one tweet under the handle @IBDMD.
In another: “Insurance companies don’t know & worse appear not to care about downstream savings. Deny now. Pay more later. Maybe someone else pays then?”
Rubin explains that he’s not anti-insurance; he’s just frustrated. “I understand they have to maintain
costs. What I’m against is an insurance company that’s lazy.”
Before turning to Twitter, Rubin had spent an hour on the phone with UnitedHealthcare, which shuffled him from one representative to the next. After explaining the situation multiple times, he was fed up. So, Rubin called out the company’s laziness publicly. Colleagues and supporters re-tweeted and responded to him from around the world.
But it’s far more common to see patients on social media than physicians.
Patients turn to Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms for many reasons: to complain about a healthcare experience, to raise medical funds through sites like GoFundMe and to blog medical updates to their followers. They choose physicians based on Yelp reviews, join Facebook groups to discuss diseases and scour Twitter hashtags like detectives to research medical conditions.
Statistics reflect the trends: 33 percent of U.S. consumers use social media to find medical information and review their health experiences, while 90 percent of 18- to 24-year olds trust medical information shared in their social networks, according to a 2012 study from PwC’s Health Research Institute. The numbers have only grown since then.
Some physicians are setting the standard nationally, including avid blogger and tweeter @KevinMD (145,000 followers) and Instagram star @DrPimplePopper (2 million followers). Local physicians, researchers, nurses, therapists and others in medicine are slowly joining in on these conversations, though lack of time and fears around privacy violations often keep them at bay.