Health Practice Using the Internet – De-stigmatizing the Fear of the Unknown

I recently had my first experience lecturing as part of the Health and Biomedical Informatics Research Unit. The lecture was part of an elective masters level subject on E-Health and Biomedical Informatics. The cohort consisting of mainly information systems, public health and informatics students/professionals (with other disciplines also represented).

It was refreshing to speak to such a diverse and enthusiastic group. “Health 2.0 – Health Practice Using the Internet” (with a social media focus) was the lecture topic. My own PhD studies are to investigate optimal social media usage in chronic illness management so it was a pleasure to speak on this area to like-minded individuals.

A few things quickly became apparent:
1) There was no way I was going to do this topic justice given the breadth it covers (at best I hoped to give the participants a taste and get their social media fires burning)
2) There are gaps in the theoretical understanding of what social media means, especially to health practice at this level
3) Students possibly need an even more basic understanding of the ‘implications’ of social media to health before discussing specific applications

The lecture covered various aspects of social media, starting with what social media is, through to health 2.0 and classifications of various platforms. We discussed various examples of social media utilisation among clinicians, social media for the patient, what hospitals and large health organisations are doing and also touched on Eysenbach’s model of infodemiology, applications for disease surveillance and disaster management.

I had my own preconceived notions of how the lecture would evolve. A part of me thought that given how rampant the social media bull is running, it would be a given that the group comprehend the topic and absorb the information like proverbial sponges. They did..but the questions and discussions told a different story.

Rather than pose questions about the individual social media platforms or ideas for implementation, the overwhelming theme (our collective discussion forum if you will), centred around an even more basic question – Do the positives of social media outweigh the negative consequences or connotations in healthcare. I have had the same experiences in my own clinical practice. The idea of interactive websites and social media communication makes many of my traditional clinical colleagues cringe. We discussed the need for more robust reviewed literature on social media interventions in healthcare, a more open framework or set of guidelines advising best practice of social media in health and touched on some of the foundations of the ‘health information portability and accountability act’ pertaining to privacy of medical information in online communication. All valid and topical areas. As I said to the group though, we could have individual lectures on all these areas and still not cover enough!

Professionals and students heading down the path of e-health are genuinely knowledge thirsty and enthusiastic participants. They recocnise the tectonic shift occurring in health communication but they are weary. If we expect the general public to embrace social media as a meaningful part of their health management, a good starting point might be to address the e-health literacy of students and professionals alike. There’s social media and there’s using social media in health effectively. Somewhere in between is a chasm so wide that it makes it hard to see the other side. How can we bridge the gap? My immediate thoughts are to start with these students and professionals. Give them a deeper level of education on the aspects of the good, the bad and the ugly when using social media for health practice. ….In a nutshell, address the stigma, discuss privacy and security, and certainly talk about overall best practice when using social media in healthcare. If we can de-stigmatize social media early in these groups, they should feel more comfortable going forward and putting it into practice..

I’d love to discuss this further and get others’ thoughts so drop me a comment or find me on Twitter @merollim

*Mark Merolli is a PhD candidate of the Health and Biomedical Informatics Research Unit and is investigating how social media can be optimised in the effective management of chronic illness

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4 Responses to Health Practice Using the Internet – De-stigmatizing the Fear of the Unknown

  1. fernando martin says:

    Great post, Mark, and great lecture yesterday. Thanks.

  2. Mark Merolli says:

    It really was a great experience. Great discussions. Thanks again

  3. Very eloquently written Mark considering the can of worms social media opens for Health practices of all specialities. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Mark Merolli says:

    Thanks for your words Marhsa. It certainly wasn’t a can of worms I was expecting to discuss based on the exact direction of the lecture but it’s got my attention now!

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