So what is SoMe (social media)...just a new fad or something which could help the world of diabetes care? The words "Facebook" and "Twitter" seem to generate 2 opposite poles of viewpoints in the world of diabetes. There are the evangelists who believe the key to improvement lies only with this medium, an untapped source begging to be used and a forum which could dissolve the divide between professionals and patients. And then there are the traditionalists who see this as a passing fad, one that is for "youngsters", one that is fraught with the risk of confidentiality issues or even patients getting too close.
The truth as usual perhaps lies somewhere in between and below are my experiences of my foray into this world where not many tread...
As someone who uses all these forums regularly, my personal choice has been to reserve Facebook for close family and friends, intermittently using it to highlight any local accolades but generally for personal messages, contacts, networking but as a rule, never for any patient contact. I have had "requests" from patients but have steadfastly stayed away from them, as I have always regarded this forum to be my personal space. However, there is the potential for this forum to be used for patient benefit. Prime example?Ninjabetic, which over the last year or more,has become a strong forum for type 1 patients, local and afar, interacting and communicating, learning from each other, appreciating they are "not alone". On a personal level, I have helped with generic advice such as "tips for the festival season" bearing in mind teenagers, their love for music and alcohol and simply put, the struggle of adolescent hormones while having to deal with Type 1 diabetes. Tips given on this forum have been appreciated, but I have stayed away from personal advices and when asked, have asked them, if appropriate to contact their local professional. Some departments are also setting up Facebook profiles to use as an information portal for their patients, perhaps more aimed at the younger group, but one underestimates the potential of Facebook by simply tagging it as one for the youngsters.
Twitter has however been a different matter altogether. Again, personal experience suggests that the benefits have been two fold. As regards patients, it has been educational, if not sometimes humbling, to learn of the challenges they face, the lack of services they perceive to have or even the desperate cry for psychology support needed at all ages. It has also reinforced my belief that we, as professionals, need to change, not see patients on our terms, but perhaps, at times of convenience of patients. Access is a big problem and twitter has given me the education that we need to provide this in a much more innovative way than we do now. The world has moved on from traditional letters, even emails nowadays are passé...we are now in the age of direct messages, texts...and we need to perhaps respond accordingly.
Twitter has also been fantastic in interconnecting people with perhaps similar mind sets, passionate, committed and with strong views. Once again, I have found this to be extremely useful, exchanging views with policy makers, debating issues with primary care colleagues and constantly learning. it makes you see the bigger picture, or at least, for me, certainly has helped me develop. One could even say that this exchange of information,Whether it be patients or fellow professionals, has been worth more as regards continuous professional development, than any lectures I have sat through in the event past. Once again, I have stayed away from personal health related queries for confidentiality issues and advised guidance from local professionals.
Finally as regards blogs, there have once again been a 2 fold benefit. Firstly, Twitter is a forum restricted to 140 words. On one hand, it encourages people to come straight to the point without leaving any room for preamble etc, while on the other hand, it leaves one a bit incomplete as to whether the whole picture has been conveyed. Patient blogs have been fascinating to read (take your pick from Laura, Hannah, David, Yas, Dannie et al) and once again been an educational and learning experience for me as a healthcare professional. Secondly, personal musings on a blog, albeit my own views, not only gives one a forum to air views about healthcare, what one can change, what should change but also perhaps cathartic. Criticism is what makes a democracy tick, (and constructive ones help people and organisations, if wiling, to develop further) but this should not extend to personal attacks laced with vitriol. if anything, such occurrence, lessens the impact of the blog and the writer.
Personally, I see social media developing as an adjunct rather than replacing anything big in the healthcare sector. As an educational forum, it can be an excellent vehicle and perhaps could also become a vehicle to help professionals interact better with patients and fellow professionals. The confidentiality issue will however need to be tackled and security of these vehicles still need further work before any direct health related advice can be given. The GMC has some available guidance for professionals, as are the RCGP coming out with one. However, the key is to use any of the forums in a manner which is professional and not seen by any individual or organisation to be compromising confidentiality or questioning integrity of others.Examples abound of professionals who use this forum in a responsible or judicious manner, whilst also contributing to diabetes care- step forward Dean, Annie, Simon and Sandeep!
At the end of the day, we need to ask ourselves whether any of this will help the patient or for that matter, any specific group.. If the feedback from patients is that "this" is the forum they would like to use, then as professionals, it's our responsibility to make it work. As mentioned previously, the days of "us" seeing patients on our own terms is dying a slow death...we need to ensure that we can rise to the challenge and use existing forums to suit patients, especially in a disease process, where engagement is the key mantra.