NuHealth to offer services via Facebook

NuHealth, which includes Nassau University Medical Center in NuHealth, which includes Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow, will next month let patients make appointments, access their medical records, refill prescriptions from Walgreens and find a doctor through Facebook. Photo Credit: NuHealth

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NuHealth wants to friend patients in a whole new way.

The health care organization, which includes Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow, next month will let patients make appointments, access their medical records, refill prescriptions from Walgreens and find a doctor through Facebook.

Many hospitals have Facebook pages, but NuHealth is the first on Long Island -- and perhaps the first nationwide -- to use the social media giant to link to so many health care services.

The idea, NuHealth chief executive Arthur Gianelli said, is to engage with the community -- especially younger people more apt to use Facebook and Twitter.

He said he envisioned the page as a way to "help us grow our market" and establish a presence as a trusted source of medical information. "For those in their 20s, this is how they get their information," he said of social media. It's also a relatively inexpensive platform for the safety-net hospital, he said.

The cost of the campaign was not immediately available, but NuHealth spokeswoman Shelley Lotenberg said, "It's a fraction of what it would cost to reach as many consumers if we were to have conventional advertising."

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The newly designed Facebook page is part of a campaign called "Talking Well" and will include blogs and videos on emerging medical issues by NUMC's chief medical officer, Dr. Steven Walerstein; updates from department heads; and health and wellness data on topics including smoking cessation and weight loss.

"By sharing information, you create a web of trust," said Kerry Young, of Crown Advertising in Plainview, which is developing the page for NuHealth.

People will be able to access through Facebook -- as well as NuHealth's website -- an array of services not found on most hospital Facebook pages.

Robert Jewels, senior systems analyst for NuHealth, said 15 months ago the organization started making limited medical records, including a patient's medications and immunizations, available online to patients.

So far, 260 people have used the portal, he said. Eventually, Jewels hopes even X-rays could be available online.

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Pains have been taken to ensure privacy, Jewels said. A privacy policy will be displayed prominently on the Facebook page.

Privacy experts said the hospital is entering uncharted territory. "This is indeed groundbreaking," said Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum, a nonprofit based in San Diego that studies privacy issues, including medical identity theft.

When someone clicks "likes" or posts a comment on Facebook, that information is public and not covered under the federal medical privacy law, she said.

"Things that you write will be public," she said. "The fact that you're a patient can be inferred if you make an appointment."

Cautions Dixon: "This is a new form of public information and some people will care."

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