With our smart phones a mere finger strut away, keeping in touch with families and friends, researching our interests and arranging our social calendars has never been easier, with social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin enabling us to connect in a staggering variety of ways, either with people we know, or complete strangers. It isn’t an exaggeration to say that social media has totally transformed how we communicate with each other, yet can it really have a place in the fiercely protective and private healthcare industry?
Despite most businesses lapping up the wide ranging opportunities that social media can provide, healthcare has been a little slow out of the starting blocks, with NHS workers scratching their heads over how ethical it is to communicate with patients via social media. Although concerns over patient confidentiality and maintaining high levels of professionalism have been raised, it is clear to see that the plus points of social media outweigh any niggles employees may have.
Social media can play a part in shaping and improving healthcare services, starting by engaging patients. Future generations are going to be ‘social media natives’, in the same way that this generation are ‘digital natives’ and have been brought up with new technology. Social media natives will be used to interacting by tweeting, posting and messaging so it would make sense to them to contact their doctors and healthcare providers in the same way.
Patients can also use social media to speak to and reach out to each other. Being diagnosed with a condition you know little about, let alone living with it, can be an incredibly daunting experience, so being able to find fellow sufferers online, either via a blog or Facebook group, can be hugely reassuring. Patients can pose questions and not feel silly or small as the people they are connecting with are all in the same boat. Doctors can also help out where they can, with specialists being able to answer condition specific questions, for example Partha Kar, Clinical Director, diabetes and endocrinology, uses his social media and blog to raise awareness of his specialty. “I look forward to continuing to use social media to help put the agenda of diabetes up for constant discussion,” he writes.
As well as a tool for patient to doctor communication, social media is also ideal for colleague campaigns, as it provides an open platform that crosses boundaries and hierarchies. Anne Cooper, Nursing Clinical Informatics Advisor at NHS England discusses this further. “I saw the huge untapped potential that I believe social media offers us. Yes, it breaks down boundaries and flattens hierarchies, but it also has the real potential to change the very nature of the power based relationship between systems and people.”
Concerns and issues can be raised and discussed easily and clearly for all to see no matter what your status or position, giving topics a huge scope for reach across NHS trusts. It is also a fantastically efficient method of sharing knowledge and medical innovation, passing on details quickly and succinctly in 140 characters or less.
Teresa Chinn, Registered nurse and founder of WeNurses hits the nail on the head regarding colleague to colleague communication when she says “I have written so many blogs since I started my social media journey and as anyone who blogs will tell you we never really know where our words go, who they affect and the ripples they cause. Social media is a powerful thing; it allows many people to tell their stories and gives them the opportunity to be heard. If we listen, and I mean really listen, we can learn and we use these stories to act and to make change.”