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How Social Media Can Affect Your Healthcare Career

How Social Media Can Affect Your Healthcare Career

Aspiring doctors, nurses and other budding healthcare professionals are facing a problem: your next Tweet or Facebook post could get you fired.

An unintentional breach of patient privacy, whether through the use of an insecure medium or even by sharing a seemingly harmless photo with your personal network, could result in the loss of your job or expulsion from school.

On the flip side, while the consequences could be grave, social media also holds some impressive implications for drastic healthcare improvements.

The surprisingly sluggish application of technology in the health environment is understandable: since the system isn’t certain of the adverse effects of a change or tweak, and stakes are much higher when it comes to people’s private lives and information, the system needs to move slower. Thus, testing and implementation are much more rigorous.

In this case, it currently pays off to be risk-averse. A leak in LinkedIn passwords is redeemable; a leak of health information is not. (For example, the legal consequences are much more severe.)

The implications are particularly relevant to this emerging generation of doctors, nurses and other health professionals. According to a recent thirdocean report, 57.5% of health professionals believe social media to be a beneficial and engaging way to get current, high-quality information. This proportion is only going to rise as social media continues its permeation through society.

What does this mean for young health professionals using social media?

Increased patient-to-patient communication

A crucial role of social media is connecting people together. While Facebook and Twitter have allowed for mainstream adoption of social networks, there has been a growth in smaller, more intimate social networks (e.g., Path, Pair). These tighter social networks restrict the number of active participants, but also naturally receive increased user activity and engagement.

Startup Healthy Labs looks to bring private social networks to patients with chronic illnesses. Healthy Labs takes the first step to connecting these patients with its initial social network for patients of Crohn’s Disease, Crohnology. Crohnology is only accessible to patients at the moment. Some benefits of Crohnology include empowering patients to ask and answer each others’ questions, and enabling local meet-ups, health tracking, privacy controls, and exportable data.

Should health professionals gain access to these communities, they will be able to figure out patients’ main concerns, as well as recent relevant trends or alternative treatments. This allows for a much more direct read into patient insights, which means that doctors can gain a much quicker understanding of how to chat with and treat patients through crowd-sourced experiences and stories. They can learn at a faster pace. They will also be able to debunk common patient myths and figure out current patient concerns.

Convenient access to information

Context reigns supreme in healthcare. Patient background, such as prior health history or conditions, could hold serious implications for diagnosis and treatment selection. However, because of the sensitive nature of this information, privacy acts and policies force doctors to guard this information extremely tightly.

The main beef with transferring information is a matter of security: for example, despite the industry’s growing adaptability with information sharing, email is still not considered secure enough to transfer patient information between health providers. There’s the story of a doctor being sued by a patient for emailing another provider patient information. This increased risk makes health providers think twice before sending information. This delay and inconvenience takes away from the patient experience.

Those days may soon be over. Cloud-based content management systems have already been deployed between regional hospitals, which makes patient information much more accessible. Young professionals could securely connect to these content management systems on a regional, provincial or even national level and tap into patient information from all across Canada.

Not only does this decrease the average appointment time for each patient, it also makes for more accurate and updated context. There’s also potential for knowledge banks and other types of content to be uploaded to these content management systems, which makes it easier for health professionals to communicate more effectively with patients and other stakeholders (i.e., SickKids’ HealthCentre BioBank).

Patient confidentiality concerns

The main barriers to health providers and professionals using social media more actively are a matter of patient privacy. It’s crucial to keep patient information private, in order to ensure that patients are treated with dignity and respect.

Because this type of content is so sensitive, even the most purely sentimental or inspirational intentions could have some harsh consequences. For example, an aspiring nurse was expelled from her training program simply because she shared a photo of her posing with her patient after the patient’s recovery from an illness on her personal Facebook account.

In order to prevent these types of situations from happening, there are widely-circulated social media guidelines and rules for providers to follow. In order to avoid unpleasant outcomes, it would be wise for healthcare providers to get familiar with these guidelines.

At the end of the day, the serious consequences mean that young health professionals should keep in mind that when you’re in doubt, it would be wiser to keep your lips sealed on social media.

Do you see yourself using social media as a healthcare professional?

Healthcare Week Incubator banner Jan 2013 How Social Media Can Affect Your Healthcare Career

Photo credit: Tricia Wang

Written by

Herbert Lui is exploring the intersection of entrepreneurship, art, and technology. He is passionate about writing and design, and believes in learning by doing. Herbert is currently a contributor at Techvibes, a VP at the Impact Entrepreneurship Group, and experimenting with new media through CutEdge. If you’d like to get in touch, you can follow Herbert on Twitter (@herbertlui).
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