Posted by: ayrshirehealth | February 20, 2013

Social media and healthcare? by @amcunningham

Social media and healthcare?

Next week, I’m going to be part of a panel at the eHealth Scotland 2013 conference, where we will be considering the relevance of social media to healthcare. I thought I would use this post to introduce myself and explain some of my thoughts.

medical_computerI work for Cardiff University where I am academic lead for the use of technology in the undergraduate medical course. It was my work in the university that first drew me to social media use.

TwitterI am also very proud to be a part-time GP but I do not actively use social media with my patients, and I am still thinking about how it might be relevant.  Being a GP is about caring for people and their families. We work in practices a few miles from where our patients live. It is not obviously clear how social media would enhance these relationships.

Global networks – facilitating conversations

But as an educator social media has been tremendously powerful. It has allowed me to develop global networks which help me learn about every aspect of medical education. It has also helped me to develop professionally as a doctor by facilitating conversations with secondary care staff and patient groups.

blogDo I think every GP, or indeed every health professional should have a blog and be on Twitter? No, not at all. I think that to benefit from the opportunities that social media provides you have to be very curious. You have to want to know the opinions of people who you will not come across in your day to day life. You have to become good at managing your time. You have to know when to leave a discussion. You need to be comfortable with being public. You have to think through how you will maintain your own boundaries. These are all areas that I am still learning about.

Knowing where you want to get to

We will see a lot of talk about how healthcare organisations in the UK should be using social media. One of the best pieces so far has been written by Andrew Jackson of Dell, who stresses that knowing where you want to get to is essential.  MarkArrowI retain a healthy scepticism about the power of any technology to make big changes to the practices of healthcare. Social media can be a very powerful communication tool, and to me so far, seems to work best when real individuals are representing organisations. Individuals learn and they can change practices, and they do not sound like press releases.

If you are trying to convince some of your senior colleagues to explore this terrain direct them towards Dr. Mark Newbold’s 10 twitter tips for NHS leaders.  Check out his blog too.

It seems certain that we will be talking and debating the place of these technologies for some time. But without doubt the best way to get a realistic sense of their potential is to actually use them. If you have questions there are many of us out there who are happy to give you some pointers, so give it a go!

Final thoughts

I know the readership of this blog is very wide and I’d like to end by asking you, “What part do you think social media will play in healthcare in the next five years? “.

Thank you for the great pleasure of sharing my thoughts with you.

This week

Ayrshirehealth guest  blog is by @amcunningham (Dr Anne Marie Cunningham) a Clinical Lecturer at the Institute of Primary Care and Public Health, and Academic Lead for eLearning at the School of Medicine, Cardiff University.

Next week

First time blogger @bigflip14 writes for ayrshirehealth


  1. […] the relevance of social media to healthcare. I thought I would use this post to …… Read more… via Original […]

  2. In the North West of England we are beginning to explore the role of social media within public health. As teams begin to fragment ; moving around the newly arrange health system there are anxieties about how the specialty can continue to stay connected to existing networks and partners. We see social media providing a mechanism to do that. There is also an interest in understanding how the Director of Public Health can interact and engage with their communities.
    On a personal level I was interested in comments on role of social media in GP settings and again there are a couple of GPs in North West who are working on this. Dr Stuart Berry and Dr Amir Hannan.

    • Thanks Paula,
      I know Stuart and Amir and I think they’d agree with me that the role of social media in primary care is not yet clear. Websites have been around a lot longer and most healthcare settings, including GP practices, are still learning how to best use these. Most practice Facebook pages or Twitter accounts are only sporadically used. I don’t think this is surprising at all.
      Public health is going through the same learning cycle. Locally for me one of the best uses by a health board is ABM Health Board. Their CEO Paul Roberts is a keen tweeter and they are managing their Twitter and Facebook pages very well. In a recent consultation on the future of health services in South Wales they had a much higher level of engagement that other areas. I doubt that is because of their social media presence but I think that the presence helps facilitate openness and transparency.
      Thanks for the comment!

  3. Great blog. I think GPs ignore social media at their peril. OK, so we need better evidence of its use as an intervention, but as a communication tool at least it seems essential.

    • Hello Andrew,
      Thanks for the comment. Which particular social media tools do you think GPs should not be ignoring as communication tools? At the moment I don’t think we have any stand out examples of how a Facebook page or Twitter account is really enhancing communication within primary care. I think this is for the reasons I describe above- this kind of communication that social media channel facilitates has not been seen as a key task within primary care. If this changes then of course primary care staff will be engaging, don’t you think?

  4. […] Social media and healthcare? by Anne Marie Cunningham on the Ayrshire Health blog. […]

  5. […] to Weekly Blog Club. She was anticipating in her post being on a panel at a conference to discuss Social media and healthcare? Derek Barron considered the use of hashtags, the stats he got from hashtagged tweets at a medical […]

  6. […] Marie Cunningham in her blog for Ayrshirehealth asks the question Social media and Healthcare?  This blog acknowledges that social media may not be for everyone, however it also provides […]

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