The #hcsm chat on Twitter has been an incredibly valuable forum for interested participants to discuss the potential uses, challenges, benefits, and risks involved in using social media to enhance healthcare communications. Through these chats, I have learned a great deal from very smart and very insightful people, and I believe that social media (SocMed) will play an important role in health care and physician/patient communications in the future.
As a result of the interest and participation in the #hcsm chats, other #hcsm chats have started around the globe: Europe, Canada, Silicon Valley, and Latin America. The hcsm Latin America chat (#hcsmLA) holds a particular interest for me: I lived in Latin America for 10 years as a child (Venezuela, Argentina, and Panama). These days, I participate in medical service and community development trips in the Dominican Republic twice a year. Here in Richmond, I work with a patient population that includes many patients from Central America. These experiences make me feel connected to that part of the world, and I am very interested in using SocMed tools to enhance health care for vulnerable communities both in the United States and in Latin America.
During a recent #hcsmLA chat, I asked the group what obstacles they saw in the adoption of SocMed tools in Latin America. Those involved in the discussion presumed that access to technology resources would be limited, including high speed internet, computers, etc. I was interested in discussing other barriers to SocMed adoption, and a few of the #hcsmLA participants were willing to discuss in more detail. In this post, I will outline some of the discussion and provide a few additional thoughts. There will also be at least one additional post on this topic, so stay tuned.
During the discussion on March 1st (link in Spanish), @xaviervel noted that those already interested in SocMed communications will need to take an active role in promoting use of the technology and driving its use, but noted that the promise of the technology could enhance teaching and medical education. @rgenneroriganti pointed out that developing nations in Latin America SMS technology would precede the development of health 2.0, but that SocMed innovation could allow for the development of an entirely new level of healthcare systems and provide a new way for patients to access care.
@cicarca mentioned that one of the major limits was the concern about moving healthcare communication from a monologue to a dialogue (but did not note if this would be fear on the part of patients or of providers), and @AmatoDan agreed that Latin American culture characterized by traditionalism and conservatism would be unlikely to adopt new SocMed-based practices very easily. @Camilonacho felt that the major barrier would be in sharing and distributing information out of fear of empowering patients. @mariohitschfeld stated that resistance to accepting SocMed would be shared among older people, but not by younger generations. @vj_CR (Valentina Jaramillo, #hcsmLA’s moderator) pointed out that Latin Americans are more accustomed to hierarchical (“vertical”) relationships, and would have a hard time envisioning an alternative.
To overcome these barriers and challenges to adopting SocMed in Latin America, @AmatoDan suggested that advocates demonstrate SocMed’s ease, convenience, and ready access to information. @cicarca stated that other ways to overcome barriers to SocMed involvement include increased comfort in internet-based communication in general, and by the creation of exclusive physician communities (where physicians can create and share information freely) . @xaviervel stated that he thought it would be easier for medical professionals to encourage SocMed adoption instead of patients in light of present hierarchical structures.
Based on these #hcsmLA interactions (with participants in Chile, El Salvador, and Venezuela), I suspect that Latin America faces many of the same challenges to adopting SocMed that are present in the United States, only more so. SocMed adoption for healthcare communications in the U.S. involve helping patients become engaged and activated, ensuring that information is made freely available, and encouraging conservative medical organizations to honestly consider how SocMed can benefit health care for both patients and providers. Latin American has two additional obstacles: technical challenges (lack of high speed internet and easily-accessible computer resources) and a stronger tradition of vertical and hierarchical medical communities that may not be as receptive to patient-based (and patient-centered) initiatives. This would make it even more important to ensure that interested physicians (who may have better access to technology and who can demonstrate the value of SocMed to their peers) need to link with active and engaged patients to move SocMed adoption forward.
Carmen Gonzalez (one of this blog’s co-authors and @crgonzalez on Twitter) has noted some Latin American countries are already making use of SocMed communications, so the obstacles listed above are not universal. Hopefully, those nations that have been more proactive in exploring #hcsm can be models for those that are just starting to explore their options.
That means that use of SocMed to connect physicians and patients will allow the necessary relationships to develop that will advance SocMed adoption. By successfully using SocMed, patients and physicians in Latin America can prove the concept and encourage their peers at each level to join them.
(The #hcsmLA Twitter chat is held at 20:00 hrs GMT -3. This means on the East Coast the chat is at 7 pm EDT/6 pm EST. The majority of the chat is in Spanish.)