“Social media” (SocMed) is a phrase with nebulous meaning. There are various definitions available, but the formulation that is easiest for me to understand is to consider “social media” as a group of web-based applications and services that allow user-generated content to be distributed and/or viewed online. This would include such sites as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and blogging sites including Blogger and WordPress. At their essence, each of these sites/services (and many, many other sites not mentioned) allows an individual to find a forum for making their opinions and perspectives known to the world at large. Although the nature of these services differ widely, the common link is anyone (with luck, hard work and expertise) can add to online discussions and express their opinions while also making connections with other users—regardless of where one might be.
The speed at which SocMed is being adopted has accelerated over recent years, and as a result it is becoming a topic of interest in many different areas. My principle interest is in determining the use of SocMed tools in health care communication. Physicians and other providers can enhance their online presence (and possibly, their business) by actively engaging in SocMed. Health care information, treatment recommendations, and public advisories can be distributed widely and to varied audiences through SocMed. Patients can learn about wellness and illnesses, can join virtual communities and support groups, and can have an influential voice in SocMed in ways that may be difficult in person. Patient advocates, researchers, and medical educators can all make contacts and exert influence and discuss ideas with new collaborators that would have been hard to identify before SocMed facilitated interactions.
I believe that SocMed’s influence is going to start effecting health care communication and health care practices in the near future. How doctors and patients interact, how we communicate both personally and professionally is likely to change. Use of SocMed technology and services may improve patient-oriented outcomes in a number of illnesses. Novel educational strategies, for patients and for clinicians, will be developed and we will need to determine their appropriate uses.
I think this conversation is still in the early stages. Significant barriers to use still exist, and conventions of use still need to be established. How SHOULD doctors interact with patients online? How do you ensure patient privacy and confidentiality when communicating online? The conversation can also extend beyond web-based SocMed resources and include furthering e-mail and/or text message conversations. All of this is still developing, but I believe this is a good time to get involved. As physicians, if we do not help direct the process, then the process will eventually direct us.
SocMed has the potential to empower patients, make medical care more efficient, and enhance communication in many dimensions of health care. We should be looking at ways to ensure this will benefit all parties.
My hope is that this blog will become an online resource to further the discussion around healthcare communications and social media, to allow for longer conversations, and perhaps to help establish some “best practices” around the use of SocMed in health care.