Social media brings peace of mind to patients

Motoki Sato (R), and his brother Tadashi suffer from muscular dystrophy and contact their family doctor via social media.

"I had a temperature of 39.4 C, so I took an antipyretic and tried to cool myself off. My temperature went down to 36.7 C the following day."

"I am glad your temperature has gone down. It could spike again, but just treat it the same way, and it should be fine."

Motoki and Tadashi Sato brothers in Toshima Ward, Tokyo, both suffer from muscular dystrophy.

A conversation they had with their doctor sounds like it could be held at a doctor's office. However, it was actually held online via a social media site specifically created for health care.

The site serves as a place for patients and doctors to exchange messages online.

For the Sato brothers, 39 and 38, this is a hotline connecting them with their primary care doctor, Atsuro Tsuchiya, the head of Tsuchiya clinic in the ward.

When the brothers were small, they both found it difficult to walk, and were diagnosed with muscular dystrophy, meaning all of their muscles will gradually deteriorate.

They became wheelchair users when they were in primary school. Tadashi came to spend more and more time in bed after turning 30.

He started receiving treatment from home from Tsuchiya eight years ago. The doctor now visits him every other week.

In September 2013, the Sato brothers began using social media with a laptop or tablet terminal, per Tsuchiya's suggestion.

Only those who are registered at the special site can use the service, in which patients can send messages to doctors and nurses.

On Saturday morning last August, Tadashi felt itchy, and rashes appeared on such places as his chest, thighs and the top of his foot. It was a symptom difficult to describe over the phone.

His mother Keiko, 64, sent pictures of the rashes to Tuschiya together with a message asking "Are these hives?"

An hour later, they received a reply from Tsuchiya, who had consulted with a dermatologist: "These are probably not hives."

In the afternoon, Tsuchiya visited Tadashi at home and gave him some ointment. The rashes were gone after that.

"I can freely ask my doctor for his opinion," Tadashi said.

Motoki added, "It brings me peace of mind that I can ask for advice about which drugs I can take with which drugs when I have a fever on a public holiday or at night."

They previously waited until morning to call the clinic when they had problems at night.

Tsuchiya asked some of his patients whom he treats at their homes, including the Sato brothers, to use social media.

He writes back to his patients or other doctors and nurses when he has time between seeing out-patients or after.

He receives no extra income for his services, but Tsuchiya says it helps him to know how his patients are.

The doctor visits the patients every other week and stays for about 15 minutes. Since Tscuhiya can begin conversations with the patients based on what he has heard from them over social media, he can offer more efficient examinations, he said.

If necessary, he can also prepare medicine for them in advance.

About 80 doctors of the Toshima Ward medical association use social media. The association offers introductory courses on how to use social media.

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