Social media and social networking sites are crucial tools in communicating in real-time. The Online Journal of Public Health Informatics looked at the uses of these tools in public health and medicine. Today, higher-quality studies are available to enable healthcare professionals to gain a deeper insight into the effective uses of social media.
Why Use Social Media in Healthcare?
As Boulous describes, social networking sites are now collaborative, mediated environments used to build connections and share information. Interactions on social media have triggered positive changes in managing health problems. In particular, adults aged between 18-49 are highly targeted users on these platforms as they are familiar with the technology and find it easy to use.
Use of social networking sites are linked to healthier lifestyles and provide multiple benefits for patients. These benefits include helping each other through shared experiences, receiving answers to questions, increasing awareness and helping to bring empowerment to individuals. If used effectively, social networking sites can become a key tool in the health industry as health professionals engage with their patients through these environments.
What do patients want from health-related social networking sites & how can professionals effectively use these platforms?
Patients are increasingly turning to social networking sites to fulfill a vast range of their social needs. However, health professionals must continue to maximise the usage of social networking sites to provide safe, helpful and truthful platforms that patients not only want, but need. Below are four key tips health professionals can apply to their online social networking strategy to be able to increase positive interactions on these platforms.
- Create dialogue through social networking
Facebook was identified as the number one social networking site for patients to share experiences, ask questions and receive direct feedback. Effective two-way communication between patients and health care professionals can increase the engagement and interaction on these sites. However, health professionals must be willing to put in the effort to enable this dialogue through things such as answering questions that have been asked.
- Encourage personal experiences and opinions to be shared
The first step in allowing patients to share personal experiences is to create a safe space where they can do so. Whilst allowing personal experiences to be shared online is a great way to build self-esteem and increase peer to peer interactions, there are also some dangers when this type of information is shared. There has been a strong debate around the effects of social media on teenagers with regards to mental health, isolation and cyberbullying.
One way to allow for personal experiences and opinions to be shared whilst protecting the patient is to enable some form of anonymity. Particularly when it comes to the topic of sexual health, anonymity has been proven beneficial for younger patients to enable them to lodge more personal questions and share personal experiences.
- Use social networking sites to build health education
Health professionals are already effectively using social media for learning. Vast resources on health topics such as depression, diabetes, mental health and sexual health are widely accessible to patients. As social media sites are already a major source of information for patients, health professionals can leverage this to continue to provide information and news.
- Enable support
One of the benefits of social media as identified amongst health professionals is the ability to network with other colleagues. In the same way it is as effective for patient to patient interactions. The report revealed Twitter as the number one platform for this peer to peer engagement as it fostered meetings and exchanging environments. Similarly, Facebook was identified as a commonly used platform for this. Health professionals need to leverage both Twitter and Facebook to encourage peer to peer interaction amongst patients and professionals which will create a safe space for dialogue, personal experiences and information sharing.
Be Aware of the Risks and Mitigate Them
Whilst there are many benefits to social networking sites in the health industry, it is crucial that professionals are aware of the dangers that surround these sites. There is an increased presence of misinformation or ‘fake news’. Cyberbullying and trolling can also occur within social forums. As health professionals, they need to create a safe space for information to be shared and for information to be accessed. Monitoring these sites and being aware of the effects of social media in these environments, is a start in overcoming these challenges.
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