Medical practitioners have long been wary of taking on new patients.
The latest evidence suggests that they could face a pay squeeze if they try to hire more than one new patient a day.
But now a study suggests that a better understanding of the role of social networks can make it easier to persuade patients to seek out medical care.
The researchers looked at how people react when someone they know is sick asks for help, and the response was different when they were told they were in the waiting room or the doctor’s office.
The study published in the journal PLoS ONE suggests that people who are more aware of how social networks might help patients with illness, such as nurses and doctors, may be able to persuade them to seek help.
The paper suggests that by asking patients to consider social networks, doctors could reduce the burden of caring for sick people and make them more aware and empathetic towards those in need.
The research was conducted at the University of Sheffield.
The findings were presented at the British Society of Cardiology (BSC) Annual Meeting in Birmingham.
The authors also included data from a survey of 4,977 people with severe chronic lung disease who were offered free medical services, from six hospitals in London.
Researchers asked people if they would offer to treat a patient for free, or if they were willing to pay to do so.
The responses were divided into two groups: people who were willing or unable to pay and people who had the same response but had already made up their mind to treat someone.
The people who refused to pay had a higher risk of being offered a free medical service compared with those who had decided to pay.
Researchers believe that it is the people who know others in the community are in need of help who are likely to offer the lowest price, as they feel more comfortable doing so.
‘You’re not just the person who sits at the table with the bill, you’re the person whose hand is on the trigger’ ‘We also found that people were more likely to pay for medical services if they knew someone was in need,’ said lead author Dr John Cavanagh from the University’s Department of Public Health, Health and Social Care.
‘People who know someone is in need are more likely than others to offer to pay, and that’s because the social network people have formed in the past years is more than just a feeling, but a commitment to do something for people in need.’
‘You are not just sitting there with the bills, you are also the person with the knife, the bandage, the syringe, the doctor, the pharmacist, the nurse, the GP,’ said Dr Cavanag.
‘And you’re not the one who sits in the doctor-only ward with the nurse and the pharmacy, you can sit with your friends and you can join a support group.
You are more than the person sitting there, you know your friends, you help your friends in need, and you help others in need too.’
‘It’s the community that provides the glue that holds it all together,’ said Professor Paul Koehler, from the School of Social Sciences at the City University of New York.
‘If people are less aware of the potential financial benefits that social networks have for people who need them, we might be in for a tough few years.’
‘People are aware of these costs, but they’re also aware that they can be reduced by having a social network in place,’ said co-author Professor Susan Meehan from the Department of Psychological Medicine at the Institute of Social Research, University of Southampton.
‘It might not seem like much, but it can make a big difference in terms of making people feel more compassionate and more open to the services that they need.’
We can’t really think of a time when we’re going to see a big financial hit, but I think that we’ll see it, especially for those people who already know someone who needs medical services but who are hesitant to pay.’
‘When we look at this research we see how social network-based health care can be an extremely effective tool for helping people in our society with illness,’ said Cavanak.
‘When you’re a doctor, for example, and are the first person to call someone in to see them, it can be a bit disconcerting and a bit scary.
But with a social networking network, it’s really easy for people to reach out and be in touch with each other.’
I think it’s a really good start to understanding the benefits that a social-network-based system can offer and how it can help people who might otherwise not have access to healthcare.’
‘I think that with social networking, it might be really useful to have a little more empathy and compassion and help people in a different way.’
The research, funded by the Medical Research Council, was conducted using an online survey and data analysis.
The team included Dr Mee