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Never mind the barriers to the health sector’s uptake of social media – here are some useful resources and examples

The Cancer Council WA organised for me to speak at a meeting of public health people in Perth earlier this week on the opportunities of social media for their sector.

I was quite surprised by some of the discussions afterwards – to discover that some organisations are not equipping staff with the tools or the skills to engage with the digital world.

Also surprising was a comment about the conservatism of the sector, given that achieving political and social change could be considered core business for public health.

Similar concerns are also being raised overseas. However, it’s worth pointing out that US agencies have some useful guides to encourage social media’s use by the public health sector – by contrast, the Australian National Preventive Health Agency hasn’t shown much sign of digital engagement.

Meanwhile, I wonder whether the situation has changed much since this survey, published last year in the Australian Journal of Primary Health by Wayne Usher from Griffith University.

Of 935 respondents, from eight health professions, only 9.5 per cent said they used Web 2.0 for their professional work (staggering!!) mainly due to ‘a lack of understanding as to how social media would be used in health care’.

However, at least some organisations and individuals are seizing the opportunities, as per this graphics-based YouTube clip from VicHealth highlighting the concerns around alcohol-related harm and young people.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kj_VbNp3lvE&feature=youtu.be[/youtube]

In the post below, Dr David Corbet, a junior doctor at the Royal Melbourne Hospital who was recently on a placement with NT General Practice Education (NTGPE) and is now working in a regional Victorian hospital, says there is still a great deal of resistance amongst professionals who do not appreciate the opportunities or who are concerned about potential risks.

He outlines some useful resources and examples for those interested in finding out more about how to harness social media for better health.

***

How social media can help 

David Corbet writes:  

I spent the last three months in a new position coordinated by the NT General Practice Education (NTGPE), with a focus on the intersection between comprehensive primary health care and public health in the context of Indigenous health.

While working as a Public Health Medical Officer I have been developing resources for, and encouraging the use of, social media.

This has included refining social media policy, creating templates for project development and generally trying to promote the potential benefits while acknowledging the risks and allaying fear.

In my experience, the mere mention of Twitter or Facebook in medical circles tends to elicit derogatory quips about inane commentary and photos of cats. This seems to be (mostly) due to a lack of understanding of how social media can work. But beyond the simple dismissal and ridicule, risk mitigation seems to be a primary focus for the reluctance to engage meaningfully with social media.

This reluctance seems to do a disservice to any organisation or person that values transparency and engagement. There’s the constant worry that someone will say the wrong thing or make a political gaff. And concern that by engaging with the general public it opens up the floodgates for unguarded criticism.

In my opinion though, these are just opportunities for affirming integrity by having the option of response.

What could be better than to be able to respond with acknowledgement of a mistake, and the chance to offer a correction? Or, the chance to listen and respond to the opinions and criticism of people as a way of encouraging engagement and providing transparency? But I digress somewhat.

This post is really just to point you towards some texts. I’ve been writing a few little pieces to provide some concrete examples of how social media has a place within medicine. I first tweeted details from a conference 3 years ago, at the World Congress of Internal Medicine when it was in Melbourne. There was one other person at the conference that was tweeting.

I recently participated in the International Conference on Emergency Medicine that was held in Dublin, Ireland. I was on a bus in Darwin, Australia.

The audience at the conference had a number of high profile and around 40 active tweeps, so there was a steady stream of data flowing out.

I compiled this experience into a short article, using the curatorial website Storify, as an example of how social media can be used but also as a way of communicating some of the clinical information and research that was being conveyed.

You can read (and comment on if you wish!) the article here. Here’s a follow-up from the conference coordinators.

Another piece I wrote was to give a simple overview of social media and draw together some examples of how social media is being used in public health. You can find this article here.

• Follow David on Twitter at: @corbetron

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