As you walk towards the nearest coffee place, what you see are people
enthralled with their smartphones. You may have heard or observed
teenagers enchantment with texting. You definitely know about Facebook
even if you do not have an account or you forgot how to login after
having lost the password when your teenage nephew told you how to open
an account to check the last Thanksgivings photos.
Someone may have provided with the link to reports of the Pew Internet and American Life Project published by the Pew Research Center.
You heard of Twitter, one of the most popular social media tools, which
not only helps spread the news but also shape them. In the case of the
uprising in Iran in 2009, the images, video, and reports on mainstream
media were, for the most part, the product of social media tools-regular
citizens carrying smartphones and connected to the Internet. It is just
impossible not to notice, something is happening and it seems at times
just a fad. Indeed, this blog entry is also an invitation to a
conversation with the author and others. Should we care? What does this "social media revolution" have to do with collaborative health care?
Briefly, what is social media or social technologies? Social media is
a set of highly accessible tools for anyone with access to an internet
connection via phone, computer, and other digital devices. These tools
allow anyone not only to observe what others have produced (TV is a good
example) but also to engage in the production of media. Through social
media, we not only consume information but we also create it. In the
case of health care information, it opens up the possibility for all
stakeholders to engage in conversation, share information, analyze it
collaboratively, and interact more efficiently. Social media tools are
also interoperable, live in the "cloud", and for the most part are not
attached to a particular device or software; all of which means that we
do not need to have one specific device to interact with others.
These tools defy the financial, geographical, and logistical barriers
that exist in creating a context for ongoing interaction, collaborative
learning, fast access to information, and transparency. Why do so many
professionals engage so often with a social media tool like Twitter?
Twitter, a form of microblogging, provides a virtual meeting platform
for individuals and groups who share similar interest without a large
investment travel, time, and membership dues, among many others. Besides
meeting individuals you may know "in person," you also meet others
online. It has the added benefit of helping busy clinicians or scholars
to maintain ongoing communication without the overwhelming demand of an
email inbox after a brief period of no internet activity-paradoxically,
often an explanation for not adopting microblogging is accompanied by
the statement: "I have too much email already".
Social media tools facilitate the development of self-help and
support groups. These networks of support can bring people with rare
diseases together or towards a new tailored treatment modality. In the
clinical-research arena, the recruitment of patients for a clinical
trial would be much easier and effective with these tools than an ad in
your local newspaper or an NIH sponsored website. Ease of accessibility
is a tremendous and not to be taken for granted potential of these
technologies. Think of twitter as your digital bulletin board outside
your office, but in the case of a social media outlet, your bulletin
board is reaching many more offices and at times the world at large. But
besides the ability to reach a wider audience and fast, social media
tools foster innovative ways of interacting with others.
Several months ago, while investigating the impact of social media on
health care, I run into a threaded conversation about technology and
health care or e-health. The contributors used hash tags at the start of
an acronym or word in every entry. An intriguing hash tag was #hcsm.
Soon, I discovered that "health care and social media" is an ongoing
discussion occurring every Sunday 8-9 PM Central Time. The discussion
participants are interdisciplinary: researchers and academics, social
scientists, clinicians, marketing and health care business specialists,
and patients or epatients
. The weekly discussions provide an informal but powerful forum
"strangers" to engage in dialogue about a specific and emergent subject
with questions submitted by participants earlier. The power and tools to
set up these virtual meeting places are not necessarily connected to an
academic degree or authority, geographical location, or financial
influence, but pure acumen. In my example, the convener, @danamlewis, is an undergraduate senior at the University of Alabama whose @HealthSocMed avatar serves as the hub for the #hcsm community.
As a result, an open interdisciplinary self-regulated community is
born and sustained. This is the kind of reflexive engagement that our
overspecialized professional guilds or academic worlds would make very
difficult or highly expensive to create. For those of us attempting to
construct a collaborative health care movement, a reflective practice
that values the inclusion of several disciplines, patients and their
families, and the community at large makes a lot of sense.
What do you think is the impact of social media on the collaborative health enterprise?
What are your thoughts and ideas as you think about the power of
social media to enhance and shape the collaborative family health