Q&A: SeattleMamaDoc Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, Headlines TexMed 2019
By Amy Lynn Sorrel Texas Medicine May 2019


SeattleMamaDoc Blog. In and of itself, that title implies pediatrician Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, wears many hats and is technologically savvy in the health care world.

True to her social media presence, the chief of digital innovation at Seattle Children’s Hospital will share her expertise at the May 17 opening general session at TexMed 2019 in Dallas. The title of Dr. Swanson’s talk: “How Technology is Transforming Health Care and the Physician-Patient Relationship.” Her answer to that question: “Rapidly and at a pace that’s hard for us to keep up.”

Dr. Swanson’s digital and social media experience happened rather naturally as she describes it: Facebook and Twitter emerged as she entered full-time practice, as did Andrew Wakefield’s controversial and now debunked anti-vaxx research. So she started a blog on vaccine science and safety (seattlemamadoc.seattlechildrens.org) that went viral and now includes (almost) all things parenting. These days, she also tests and creates new digital health care tools like Virtual Handshake, a HIPAA-compliant online community that connects patients with their care team before, during, and after visits.

But Dr. Swanson recognizes that not every physician is from a tech-hub like Seattle and that the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal shows patient privacy simply can’t be handed over to social media giants. Still, with patients turning first to Alexa for answers, she wants physicians to stay in the conversation.

“It is demanding that we change the way we practice, share our intelligence, and make ourselves available,” she said.

Texas Medicine talked to Dr. Swanson about her upcoming TexMed talk. Here’s a preview.

You’ve talked about using digital media to “bridge the gap” between doctors and patients. What is that gap?

That gap is the communication that occurs between the time that [physicians and patients] are together within our health system. We know patients and families go online and find great information, great solace, great reduction of suffering from finding information that might help them in a moment. So this concept of “just in time” information is meaningful; meaning, I can go and see a patient and family in clinic and do their 15-month well check on a Tuesday at noon. But when a mom is awake in the middle of the night wondering why her toddler is waking up and is beside herself, she’s going to go to the internet. My call to action is, we could just wag our finger and say, “Nothing good is there.” Or, we could shape what’s there.

Some doctors might consider technology impersonal when the physician-patient relationship is very personal. Your response?

There is the opportunity for what I call one-to-many communication. Say I see 25 patients one-on-one, I would talk to them about a lot of things that are not personal. We all have our spiel on a number of things we say every day. Instead of making you do that in a redundant way, what if I allowed you a voice through YouTube, a soundbite, a Twitter-like function in Epic (electronic health record software)? Imagine if the EHR had an ability for the doctor to message every single one of their patients personally, but all at once to say the exact same thing. There’s this belief that you are practicing medicine on the internet if you are on Twitter or Facebook. I’m saying, no, you are actually thinking pretty carefully about the things that are redundant in your work life, and how can [you] as a leader shape the health space and the technology companies toward a way to build those tools? If part of [physicians’] job is … trust and leadership, they probably do have to be where the people that they want to influence are.

Is this kind of technology scalable to any practice setting?

The very dangerous message someone could walk away with is, “She’s just saying I need to go on Twitter, and I’m not going to do that.” That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying, use and advocate for and think about … whatever problem you’re trying to solve … [and] how you could use a communication technology, including a social tool, to solve one of those problems. If your patient population or your problem can’t be solved there, then don’t do it.

What about work-life balance in an on-demand age?

I’m in touch with and worried about the mental health challenge and higher suicide rate we have among physicians versus the general public. This is not me saying: Join me in a fire hydrant of more work and information coming at you on demand. It’s me saying: Let’s keep advocating and shaping a better experience.


Tex Med. 2019;115(5):32-33
May 2019 Texas Medicine 
Texas Medicine  Main Page 

Last Updated On

August 02, 2019

Originally Published On

April 16, 2019