It “has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication.” And “is inherently of no value to us”
These words were sent in an internal memo in 1876 by Western Union about the telephone but despite Western Unions opinion and thanks to those that had a little courage we now live in a world where communication over distances is easy and commonplace and it’s all down to telephone technology. However I often hear people saying similar of social media and particularly so of social media and its applications in healthcare. Social media as a serious form of communication it is doubted and ridiculed yet latest figures show that Facebook has 1.11 billion active users and Twitter has 500 million users (Digital Marketing Ramblings) this equates to a whole lot of people communicating in a space that is not a serious method of communication! Should we not learn from historical blunders made by such people as Western Union and is it not time to think a little differently about social media instead of just dismissing, banning or ignoring it?
Within healthcare we are often more cautious than most as the care of vulnerable people is our primary concern and anything that may put those vulnerable people at risk is worth applying caution to ….. but I feel that instead of applying the breaks to social media we merely need to think differently. A large proportion of society are already using social media and engaging in this space as healthcare professionals and organisations we not only need to be in tune with people and communicate with them in the way in which they communicate but also we need to be aware of what they are saying, how they are supporting one another and be there alongside them.
I have seen first-hand the positive effects of social media through my work with WeNurses. WeNurses is a Twitter community of over 6000 nurses who use Twitter to exchange ideas, information, expertise, resources and support one another across geographical and hierarchical boundaries. Nurses ranging from student nurses to chief nursing officers have engaged and gained value from the weekly organised conversations. Nurses are not the only healthcare professionals engaging in this way Occupational Therapists – @OTalk_Occhat, Midwives – @WeMidwives, LD Nurses – @LDNurseChat, Paramedics – @WeParamedics, Pharmacists – @WePharmacists, and MH Nurses – @MHNurseChat are all finding the value of social media. The engagement doesn’t stop there though patient groups are also mobilising and engaging: the diabetes community #GBDOC, the Mental health community #MHChat and the carers for people with Alzheimer’s community #AlzChat are just a few that I have come across.
Dean Royles from NHS Employers talked recently in his blog about having a permissive approach to social media “Driving a permissive use of social media – #NHSEngage” By having a permissive approach to the use of social media there is no doubt that we are taking off the breaks and that is a scary thing indeed. But the benefits of social media soon become apparent – sharing of knowledge and expertise on a global scale; being able to communicate with people regardless of hierarchy; support from “people like me”; engaging with the community that we serve; the ability to listen to all of the conversations “about us without us” ….. the possibilities are endless if only we have a little courage.
We should think of social media as a wonderful gift that allows us to communicate more with the people we care for, the staff who care for them and other organisations who care. Have courage and think differently about social media and encourage its use it to engage and to be engaging – getting engaged in social media and healthcare is as important as all of the other methods of communication we use.
“Engage with patients, staff and other NHS trusts. Listen, learn…dig in #NHSEngage” - Dean Royles @NHSE_Dean