Let’s Be Good Social Media Neighbors

While social media offers great potential in health care–there are already some early positive results in providing direct medical and fiscal benefits to individuals and organizations—it also brings new concerns and new responsibilities .

At the same time, these opportunities open up new concerns and new responsibilities.  SM thrives off of positive interactions, which means that those who are involved must develop the necessary skills to contribute to the discussion.  These skills include an ability to engage in discussion without triggering arguments, a willingness to help others when necessary, and an understanding of the value of linking people with similar interests who might not otherwise connect with each other.  There are also concerns about privacy–both in terms of one’s personal information as well as one’s specific health issue disclosure.  These topics were discussed during October 4th’s #hcsm chat.  In my mind, this is similar to learning how to be a good neighbor, and find ways to be friendly and helpful, engage in good productive discussions, and share appropriate information.

The first part of the #hcsm chat focused on whether SM social skills are learned or whether they are born of common sense.  I strongly believe that these skills are learned by observing and listening to other (more experienced) SM users and by becoming more active and vocal as one gains more confidence.  Personally, I have learned much about being a good SM citizen through interacting on the #hcsm chats and from online exchanges with individual SM users.  I also think a certain amount of common sense is involved, but the SM environment can be daunting for new arrivals who may need some guidance or advice to find their footing.  As @MeredithGould noted, though, “‘Common sense’ doesn’t exist without a moral compass to guide behavior re: protecting/respecting privacy.”  Experienced SM participants can help model proper behavior for newcomers who may make errors of omission or commission.  This seems to summarize the consensus: common sense courtesy and respect is a necessary starting point, with the finer (and necessary) details of SM social skills being passed along to newcomers as they become more active.  Without good SM social skills, conversations and discussion rapidly devolve into arguments and much of SM’s potential can be lost.

There was also a sense that SM veterans can help newcomers avoid making mistakes that have been made before.  @doctoranonymous commented that “All the social media skills Ive learned were through all the social media mistakes I made,” while @drseisenberg noted that “A social media master is one who has made every mistake possible in social media.”  Clearly, there can be a steep learning curve, and part of being a good SM neighbor is helping others avoid known pitfalls such as inadvertently publishing personal private information or sending out excessive or offensive messages.

Privacy is another issue that needs to be addressed in SM–both privacy about oneself and privacy about others.  On the one hand, we might not want to reveal too much about ourselves in SM settings.  On the other hand, some SM partcipants must ensure they are protecting the privacy of others, such as health care providers protecting patients’ information in compliance with federal law (HIPAA).  Similarly, attorneys who use SM must take care not to divulge confidential client information.  Other information might not be legally protected in the same way, but still is not appropriate for a public discussion, e.g. revealing a friend’s medical condition would be morally suspect.  While there are bright legal lines in some cases, a good deal of our sense of privacy is somewhat generational, with younger SM users more willing to make personal information public.  My sense is that as a medical professional I must abide by the most stringent standards in place and therefore I avoid posting any private information that could be patient-related.  At the same time, I do not post much personal information about myself.  I presume that if I post something online, it can be found if someone looks hard enough.  Therefore, if I do not want my information to be public than I need to keep it offline.  For me, this means I don’t identify my family, address, employer in public SM settings, and I do not discuss any specific patient issues online.  Other participants felt similarly: @lisastockwell: “You have to assume SM is a public conversation and act accordingly. Same rules apply to conv. you have in a packed waiting room.”

Some of the actions we can take to protect privacy may seem like common sense, but there is still a need to ensure that SM users are aware of the necessary steps to protect both their own information and that of others.  @OSUSquire wrote “I also think that schools, from elementary to med schools, need to be teaching responsibility around digital tools.”  Likewise, @macobgyn discussed how he “spoke at a middle school last wk about STD/pregnancy privation and included sexting and responsible Internet behavior”.

[An aside: the privacy issue brings to mind a topic from the September 20th #hcsm, in which the discussion topics included whether health care providers and/or patients have a right to privacy and anonymity online.  I refer you to that chat summary for now; I hope to address it again in the future.]

We must not presume that SM users–especially new SM users–know all the etiquette and common practices involved in SM use, and we cannot expect SM users to recognize all the ways in which private and personal information can be disseminated online either.  As established SM users, those of us who are already involved should help pass this information along to those who need guidance.  For newcomers, they need to remember a few crucial approaches to engaging in SM:

1) Be respectful


2) Be helpful


3) Be careful regarding personal health information privacy issues; and


4) Listen as much (or more) than you speak.

With these common-sense suggestions and some experienced guidance, newcomers and veterans alike may speed the real promise of using SM for better health care.


One Response to Let’s Be Good Social Media Neighbors

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Carmen Gonzalez and Jim Bob Howard, Mark Ryan. Mark Ryan said: @drseisenberg @doctoranonymous would either of you be willing to discuss advice/suggestions/lessons learned: http://tinyurl.com/34autgl […]

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