A lot of healthcare professionals are interested in engaging patients online, usually by using popular social networking tools like facebook and twitter. This is a great idea. An article by Megan Beardsley recently explored 10 reasons why patient education and digital media fit well together, many of which apply to social networking as well. Digital media’s user-centred development complements and enhances the empowered patient that patient education professionals nurture in their work.
But when we talk about using social networking tools for patient education, it’s easy to focus on the organization’s goal. It’s easy to get swept up in the job and tasks that it takes. It’s also easy to overlook the fact that building a relationship with patients is a delicate area. Done right, the benefits are great (some of which are mentioned in Beardsley’s article). But done wrong, not only could it negatively affect the organization’s reputation, it could also harm the patient (either physically or emotionally).
So as I gear up to start engaging with patients through social media, I remind myself that patients are putting a lot of trust in me to do do right by them. And as person behind the screenname, it’s my duty to:
- provide patients with the best information I have (even if it’s not from the organization I represent)
- listen to what they say
- invest interest in their well-being
- respect their boundaries
- remember that they’re more than their online persona
Social networking is something you do with, not to, someone else.