You have to feel sorry for the communications staff at hospitals and other major health-care organizations. In this age of exponential social, technological, environmental and climatic change they’re struggling with huge demands to improve their interactions with patients and public.
At the same time they face:
- shrinking budgets and resources
- growing demands for services
- patients who have increasingly complex conditions requiring many approaches to care
- staff stretched to the limit, increasingly suffering personal health issues as a result
- public and patient/family expectations that the organizations will operate in an open, inclusive way that includes making room for the patient voice
What’s a struggling communications specialist to do, especially if he or she works in a department of one or just a handful of employees? Effectively using social media is one answer.
Small changes make a difference
One woman absolutely changed hospital practice and the way health-care workers communicate with patients through her “tiny idea.”
In 2013 Dr. Kate Granger, a consultant geriatrician in the United Kingdom, launched a Twitter campaign – #hellomynameis – to challenge what she felt was a depersonalization of patient care.
By July 23, 2016, the day she died in hospice (at age 34) from a rare terminal form of cancer, her initiative had persuaded more than 400,000 doctors, nurses, hospital staff and others to pledge that they’d begin their patient encounters with a personal introduction.
Kate’s determination to make a change was sparked by her own experiences as a patient. She was upset by hospital staff who didn’t introduce themselves to establish a human connection before delivering care. The doctor who had delivered the original, terrible diagnosis to her in 2011 hadn’t even looked at her, she noted.
As she said on her blog site : “I hope it’s my legacy … to (make) a real, tangible improvement in the health care service that directly affects patient experience.”
By late November of this year, her Twitter account listed 48,000 followers and more than 12,500 tweets — and the campaign continues, far and wide. Ottawa has joined too; see the tweet below.
She also raised some £250,000 (about C$421,000) for the Yorkshire Cancer Centre.
On another topic, here’s how the Ottawa Public Health unit is keeping abreast of current threats to public health and inviting dialogue with its public:
The Canadian Patient Safety Institute is very active on social media.
This advocacy initiative on LinkedIn – to reinforce maternity patients’ rights – is just one of the ways it’s raising patient and public awareness.
Did you know that it can take 17 years for an important discovery in medical research to result in improved care in the clinic or at the bedside? A wildly successful advocacy initiative launched in Halifax by the Centre for Pediatric Pain Research aims to narrow that gap by bringing vital information to parents of sick children sooner.
The opening sentence on the home screen of itdoesnthavetohurt.ca declares: “Over social media we can all understand pain management for children.”
After she created a video to help parents struggling when their children needed to have shots, child psychologist Dr. Christine Chambers knew she needed to reach beyond her personal networks to have an impact. She contacted the founder of the huge online community known as the YummyMummyClub via Twitter, and a comprehensive social media campaign was the result. It was bolstered by a grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. A Storify summary spells out the campaign’s incredible reach over the past 17 months — including a public launch in September 2015 at the Halifax Central Library that generated strong traditional media coverage and wide interest at home and abroad.
The Twitter account #itdoesnthavetohurt currently shows more than 5,000 followers and some 23,300 tweets.
[See the video, Three ways to instantly relieve your baby’s pain]
So I know how powerful social media can be – in a good way – when it is used intelligently. Integrity of message has to be at the core, and being careful to go where your prime audience is seems to be the way to go.
For others interested in learning more, one good overview I found was a blog article published in the Huffington Post last January: How social media is shaking up public health and healthcare.
I don’t feel prepared to tackle creating a personal brand yet, especially when my career is in transition, but I know the principles mentioned above will be my starting points.