Sunday, 30 October 2011

Social Media Monitoring in Healthcare

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One year ago a story was shared on the nhssm (NHS social media) blog. The story was about what happened when St. George's trust in London started monitoring Twitter for mention of their name. Social media monitoring is a practice that is becoming increasingly common for businesses and it is not surprising that there is increasing discussion about this in healthcare.

Generally talk about the use of social media in the NHS tends to be driven by people who work in communications teams. This is evident from the programme of the first joint conference between NHSSM and Guardian healthcare, Social Media in Healthcare. None of the presenters are from a clinical background although I believe that another conference is possibly being planned. It is my belief that clinicians (doctors, nurses and other health professionals) and patients should be involved in developing social media strategies for any healthcare organisation.

Back to the St. George's story. When the team started monitoring they came across tweets from a patient who had recently had a renal transplant. Something in his tweets concerned the communications team and because no policy had been devised on how to handle a situation like this they were uncertain what next steps to take. Eventually the patient's clinical team were made aware of the patient's tweets. The patient only became aware of all of this when his consultant mentioned the tweets to him in a consultation.

The story provoked a lot of discussion with 39 responses and a follow up post by Dr. Dan O'Connor on the ethics of social media monitoring in healthcare. I urge you to read both of these posts and have a look at the comments. I've made several comments on both.

Generally I have not come across a lot more discussion of this topic in the last year. I'm not sure if many NHS organisations have developed policies on social media monitoring and I'm not sure how many have involved clinical staff or patients in developing these policies. In fact, I might not have thought a lot more about this if I hadn't attended a breakfast meeting at Evidence 2011 by Ben Breeze of Dell. He talked about how individual members of staff, outside the comms team as far as I understand, were being trained to represent the organisation.

So I am wondering what you think about this. What would be gained from an NHS organisation monitoring social media for mention of their name? Who should be involved in developing policies? How should clinical staff be involved? What are the risks and benefits?


  1. I'm a social worker in a Community Mental Health Team so straddle the divide between Health and Local Authority. With both organisations I've found that the push towards communications policies have been driven by comms teams and while I welcome their expertise, personally, I've found a massive value in using social media and think ignoring clinicians (I'm counting myself among them here!) loses a mass of expertise.
    Ultimately I think there is a blurring of professional and personal. I currently choose to use a pseudonym but I think in the future this will both be less necessary and less acceptable. As long as I remain absolutely committed to my professional code regarding confidentiality for example, I can't see any reason why I can't be trusted to engage in social media discourses as a representative of my profession nor even of the organisation and team I work for. I suspect that's where we are going although we are a way off for now.
    Our time is coming, we are just a little ahead of our time.. for now!

  2. Thanks for the post AnneMarie. I'm intrigued by the notion that people outside of Comms Teams were being trained to 'represent the organisation'- I had a similar discussion last week in #lgovsm around the idea that Comms Teams have 'control' of communication. I guess it might be slightly obvious but *any* member of staff represents their organisation, even if they don't have access to the official social media channels, so I guess we should be thinking more broadly than those who Dell are training - unless everyone at a hospital/medical facility live their online lives anonymously. On which note

    Personally I'd like NHS organisations to monitor for use of their name providing it is for improvement of services and providing it is clear that it does so. In terms of developing policies I'd like to think a range of stakeholders - those who work and use services, which would of course include clinical staff.

    I think I agree with Ermintrude on this one - I suspect to some extent those of us having these conversations now, are still (surprisingly) slightly ahead of our time!

  3. HI AnneMarie, interesting! I think policy is for making the possible impossible and letting the bureaucrats take over what should be an emergent organic area for relationship building between all those involved or in receipt of healthcare.

    You could not have a policy which all your patients adhered to in any case.

    I also read a blog recently where someone in the social media world who had worked with a company had ordered something and the waitress had asked him for a recommendation on linkedin. I guess that is what is meant by training staff in some circumstances.

    Since I am involved in this mainly for business these days I see it as involving a whole organisation from the admin staff to the CEO.

  4. Trainees are conducting Internet/SMS searches of patients. Faculty and trainees differ in how they would respond to concerning profile information Jent et al call for for specific guidelines regarding the role of SMSs in clinical practice.


  5. I think this is a really good idea. Many private sector brands and companies are now turning to social media to provide quick and honest feedback on their strategy and there is no reason the public sector shouldn't follow suit.

    The sheer depth and diversity of information available through Twitter and Facebook makes it a goldmine for shaping policies and gauging public opinion.

    I think adequate training is a must though, particularly on how staff interact with social media in a personal capacity.


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