Like most people, you are probably a nurse who checks their Facebook account many times a day.

Social media is very addictive.

Is there a role for social media in health care?

Christine McNab in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization in 2009 said

“Social media, a great information equalizer, is radically transforming the way people communicate around the world. Instant and borderless, it elevates electronic communication to near face-to-face. Until recently the predominant communication model was “one” authority to “many” – i.e. a health institution, the ministry of health or a journalist communicating to the public. Social media has changed the monologue to a dialogue, where anyone with ICT access can be a content creator and communicator. Health professionals should ensure that information is correct and accessible.”

The way information is consumed has changed. 

I am sure that it has been a while since you have read an actual printed newspaper.

And that means that the way patients interact with health organizations has changed.

39% of adults in the United States use Facebook for health information.

And Facebook is the fourth most popular source of health information in the UK.

Facebook is a place where a lot of the world’s conversation occurs

And it is the conversation that is important.

The “one authority to many” model of communication is no longer viable.

Everybody wants to have their say.

The opportunity exists for people in need of health care to have a conversation when health issues are being discussed.

Opportunities such as correcting ‘fake news’ and ensuring that rumours and misinformation are corrected.

It is important that nurses or organizations provide relevant and timely information that is clear and easily understood.

Just like you do every day that you are at work.

Other opportunities that nurses could provide is to give feedback and anecdotes about your personal experiences.

Remembering not to overshare!

Also while Facebook gets the largest amount of attention, there are other platforms such as Twitter, Wikipedia and YouTube.

One paper identified the uses, benefits and limitations of social media for health communication.

Morehead et al. provides a handy guide to social media users may benefit as well as the limitations.

The limitations were:

  1. Lack of reliability 
  2. Quality concerns 
  3. Lack of confidentiality & privacy 
  4. Often unaware of the risks of disclosing personal information online 
  5. Risks associated with communicating harmful or incorrect advice using social media 
  6. Information overload 
  7. Not sure how to correctly apply information found online to their personal health situation 
  8. Certain social media technologies may be more effective in behaviour change than others 
  9. Adverse health consequences
  10. Negative health behaviours
  11. Social media may act as a deterrent for patients from visiting health professionals 
  12. Currently may not often use social media to communicate to patients 

As Morehead et al. wrote

“Although there are benefits to using social media for health communication, the information needs to be monitored for quality and reliability, and the users’ confidentiality and privacy need to be maintained.”

Another study looked at how a hospitals’ social media presence affected nurse’s perceptions of employer brand, image and organizational attractiveness.

With the increasing competition for nurses, the study looked at whether a hospital’s social media presence made a difference to whether the hospital was more likely to be a more attractive place to work.

Interestingly, Facebook had a positive effect while LinkedIn did not despite the similarity in the content.

So the choice of platform is critical as well as whether the organization is perceived as warm, personal and kind.

Facebook is where you put your best personal “face” forward and LinkedIn is where you put your best ‘corporate’ face forward.

Personal trumps corporate every time.

To learn more about nurses and social media:

Carpentier, Marieke, et al. “Recruiting nurses through social media: Effects on employer brand and attractiveness.” Journal of Advanced Nursing (2017).

McNab, Christine. “What social media offers to health professionals and citizens.” Bulletin of the world health organization 87.8 (2009): 566-566.

Moorhead, S. Anne, et al. “A new dimension of health care: systematic review of the uses, benefits, and limitations of social media for health communication.” Journal of medical Internet research 15.4 (2013).