Last week, I noticed a number of tweets sent out that referenced how social media and technology is being used by various patient groups. One article in particular, retweeted multiple times by users, caught my attention. It acknowledged an increase in attention by pediatricians of social media use by children.
This article, “Pediatrics Group Says Doctors Should Ask Kids About Social Media Use,” addressed a growing concern in childhood and adolescent dependency on social media instead of organic interaction with peers.
We all know the example of the type of adolescent this study references; consumed completely by their virtual persona; texting instead of talking, using Facebook obsessively, etc. These individuals primarily invest in their reputation online.
As the article suggests, this behavior may lead to an unhealthy interpersonal communication skills as these individuals age into adulthood, preventing them from what is considered “normal” interpersonal skills later in life.
Yes, in some ways, I agree with the thesis of this article. However, I also felt this article also incorrectly identified the context of these adolescents behavior. The article seemed to address the use of social media as “substance abuse” instead of a communication shift in society. In defense of this group of people using social media to communicate with one another and their community, I think it is important to recognize a few things before we judge their behavior in the health sciences:
- In general, we are interacting with many more people on a daily basis than we ever have historically. It is perceived that these children are interacting less in face-to-face contexts. Instead, their interpersonal interaction is evolving to accommodate a change in communication preferences. Therefore, children are not truly interacting less face-to-face; instead, they are communicating more and redistributing their time and effort into different mediums.
- Social media is social. Using opportunities to teach how to interact more effectively will be more beneficial for these individuals as they age, and ultimately society. We must prioritize effective communication versus the type of medium use. Although in today’s world we don’t need to be fluent in technology to survive, this will drastically change shortly. We are approaching a tipping point and we must encourage effective communication among these types of media, rather than restricting social media use in what will become an outdated society.
In healthcare IT, having a futuristic or proactive approach to goal setting is particularly important. There are many changes happening in health care that IT supports. With Meaningful Use, HIE development and even ACO construction, the foundation we lay with these programs must be built for generations from now, not for us. We will benefit in the short term, but if we don’t establish a foundation functional years from now, as a society we will always be playing catch up.
In Monday night’s #HITsm tweet chat, there was an exchange regarding the focus for the CMS and the ONC on the long term. It seems, to some, that our current system is structured to react instead of think proactively on behalf of future generations. I offered my opinion on the topic:
Keith Boone, also known as @motorcycle_guy, agreed:
This communication shift is evident. It is also a unique opportunity for health care in the future. What is the opportunity? We have an entire generation of individuals intrinsically motivated to share personal information via social media. Communication preferences are changing to reflect this shift in attitudes.
Our current system is not set up to accommodate younger generation preferences for communication. Currently, we are identifying their behavior as “unhealthy” and not “normal.” Instead, we must study how these younger generations are communicating differently than traditional methods.
A survey recently published on Fierce Health IT suggests that patients favor secure email over social media for medical consultations. This article reflected the adult (18 and older) perspective on the shift in preferences for online communication.
My initial reaction to this topic was, “of course patients wouldn’t feel comfortable with personal health information available to everyone. There are serious social stigmas associated with illness and disease and sharing that with network would be socially risqué.”
However, given the presentation of the statistics, it seemed to suggest again that there is a preference for non-Internet related communication, therefore contradicting any opportunity for social media, even among the millennial generation.
One distinction to make clear is that social media is not the antithesis of privacy. There are private ways of communicating via social media. Yes. Privacy is an issue… of course. For the millennial generation, over-sharing has become the norm though, and those who use it regularly are not intimidated by it as a communication source.
- The push for health care social media communication, or #hcsm, is real and not a fad. There is tremendous opportunity for information sharing to improve the health of not only individuals, but the community.
- What if physician offices reminded patients of follow up appointments and other housekeeping information via text message or IM instead of by phone? My hairdresser does this currently and it has been tremendously convenient. It is also an opportunity to receive feedback that can influence customer service decisions.
As health care professionals, we must also constantly be open to communicating these changes, and using social media to do so. If we are to progress as a society and evolve, honestly, it is imperative that we think beyond our own lifetimes. Society is changing and how we communicate with each other is changing as well. We must respond beyond our limited scope of our existence and establish a foundation, enabled by technology, which will improve care for our grandchildren and their children.