What role can social media play in healthcare?

Victoria Betton is a social media & mental health PhD researcher, Deputy Director at Leeds & York NHS PFT. She tweets at @VictoriaBetton and blogs atdigitalmentalhealth.co.uk. Re-blogged from the BGS blog.betton

Social media is the term used for online platforms which enable people to consume information as well as produce their own content – from 140 character updates on Twitter through to sharing photos on Instagram, and much more besides. Whether we use social networks or not, they are increasingly incorporated into day to day life, and not just for younger people:  Age UK report that the number of 55-64 year old internet users creating a social network profile rose by almost half last year, and many use social networking to keep in touch with family and friends and to reduce social isolation.

So what about the role of social networking in healthcare? I use every opportunity to chat to people using and working in clinical services about social media. And what I experience is disconnect. Many practitioners are fearful. Many more are excited by the possibilities but not sure where to start. A smaller number are already confidently using social media to connect, network and innovate. Most are predominantly thinking about their use of social media in relation to personal/professional identity and ensuring their online behaviours are consistent with guidance issued by their relevant professional body.

What I see much less of, is practitioners having the opportunity to consider how social media may form a part of their toolkit – helping people think about recovery and living well – seizing the opportunities and managing the risks.

This is where I see the disconnect and this is where the idea for Social Media in Mental Health Practice came from – a desire to capture many of the fantastic ways in which social media are already being used and to give practitioners ideas and tips about how they might incorporate this knowledge into their day-to-day practice. It isn’t a ‘how to’ book and it isn’t about professional identity. Its purpose is to help health practitioners who are new to social media consider the possibilities and the challenges, by finding out from those who are already innovating Whilst the book focuses on mental health, the ideas and case studies within it are equally applicable to other aspects of healthcare.

Co-written with Northern Lights PR, this e-book captures a particular point in time – I hope it will quickly become out-of-date and redundant, as more and more health practitioners become increasingly familiar with the potential of social media for supporting recovery focused practice.  You can download Social Media in Mental Health Practice here.

Another great resource is The Click Guide to Digital Technology in Adult Social Care which provides lots of information to help professionals, carers and people using services make use of the fantastic web and app based digital resources which are already available across the whole spectrum of needs in adult social care today. The guide lists more than a hundred resources, spanning the areas of care, health and housing.

In conclusion, social media are not the answer to everything, but do afford opportunities for people to keep in touch, increase their networks and reduce isolation. I believe they provide a useful additional tool in the practitioner’s toolkit.

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