During a recent Sunday evening, I participated in the popular healthcare communications and social media (#hcsm) tweetchat. This weekly chat, started nearly 4 years ago, was the first regular hashtag healthcare chat on Twitter, but it is now only one of many. And many of this many bring together patients seeking help and support.
Twitter conversations are just one of an increasing number of patient uses of social media in healthcare. Some of these uses are described in The Multidimensional Role of Social Media in Healthcare published in the July+August 2011 issue of interactions. Among them are online patient communities such as PatientsLikeMe.com and crohnology.com. Such communities comprise a growing system of peer-to-peer healthcare which empowers patients in ways essential to a fully-functional healthcare system.
Earlier this month, Jane Sarasohn-Kahn referenced some of the benefits of health-focused communities:
"Social networking holds significant promise for engaging people in health and changing health behaviors. Two thirds of people try to change their health behavior each year; 50% do not sustain those behavior changes... When people connect with a social network of peers, though, commitment to behavior change is bolstered and supported..."This would be key to the success of, for example, the American Heart Association's recently proposed use of social media as a weight-management tool for children.
This importance of the social to achieving the personal was one of the recurring themes of the Stanford Medicine X 2012 conference in September. Some examples: Pew Research Center's Susannah Fox referenced the integration of apps and a website with in-person support groups as the secret to the success of Weight Watchers; founder Sean Ahrens argued that the key motivator of crohnology.com use is that users' entries are status updates for all -- that users self-track for others, for sharing; IDEO's Dennis Boyle echoed this, stating that the quantified "us" is more motivating that the quantified "self"; and Ernesto Ramirez, a leading facilitator of the Quantified Self movement, argued that the "ourness" of data is what matters most -- that a word better than the word "empower" would be "emp-our-r." At a subsequent "The Future of Health" event in Palo Alto, Keas's Adam Bosworth spoke about the increasing importance of gamification to individuals' achieving healthy behavior, arguing that if you're not a part of a team, you won't sustain in the game.
Note that the social influences more than motivation. As pointed out by Stanford's BJ Fogg:
In short, people can often learn a great deal from others in social networks that is of direct relevance to achieving their personal goals and to triggering advisable behavior. Indeed, much of importance can often be learned. As Roni Zeiger puts it, "a well-functioning online patient community is a network of microexperts."
However, not all applaud such uses of social media. As Elizabeth Mynatt put it subtly in IT in Healthcare which appeared in the May+June 2011 issue of interactions, "online sites such as PatientsLikeMe.com are causing a stir in the medical community."
Yet, things keep moving forward. Reports of the benefits of peer-to-peer healthcare are accumulating. Without a doubt, achieving the personal is often much too hard without the social.