June 23, 2011

Social Networking For Health

(Ivanhoe Newswire)--Social networking is used to contact the masses, but what about using it to talk about health? Both doctors and patients are beginning to incorporate this new method of communication into their lifestyle.

Helen Atherson and Professor Azeem Majeed of Imperial College London, U.K., were quoted saying, "As well as seeking to produce new evidence [on social networking], we should be using current evidence on how social networking might be used to improve communication with patients."

Some questions have arisen about this practice though, such as why would doctors ask patients for more information about themselves if they could find it on their Facebook profile? Would doctors feel comfortable socializing with patients online beyond their care issues?

The authors of this study suggest that rather than viewing this new technology as a threat to the doctor-patient relationship, we should look at the tremendous opportunities to improve efficiency and effectiveness of health systems. Social networking is also a great tool for improving people's knowledge of their health and illness.

A group of researchers representing the Australian Medical Association, the New Zealand Medical Association, and Australian and New Zealand medical students suggest presenting readers with scenarios and discussions of potential ethical and practical implications. This group was quoted as saying, "Unlike our American counterparts, we have not explicitly advocated the formal reporting of unprofessional online behavior; instead we encourage medical practitioners to notify colleagues discreetly themselves."

This research team concluded that maintaining professional and ethical standards when using social networking is essential to protect health professionals and patients. Dr. Yu-Chuan Li of Taipei Medical University in Taiwan suggests that social networking sites such as Facebook have the power to break down barriers to complex problems. In Taiwan, the emergency room staff set up a Facebook group to discuss their frustration with the lack of government action on fixing emergency room overcrowding issues. They posted the link to the Taiwanese Minister of Health's Facebook page. The Minister in turn joined the group and engaged with the workers about these troubles and assured them that he or his staff read every comment.

After closely monitoring the discussions, the Minister and his team made surprise visits to ten emergency departments in ten different cities. After his visit, the Minister assured that there would be more resources dedicated to tackling emergency room crowding and quality of care.

SOURCE: Lancet, June 20, 2011