Overview and Summary: Social Media and Communication Technology: New “Friends” in Healthcare

  • Robert Fraser, MN, RN
    Robert Fraser, MN, RN

    Rob Fraser is passionately curious. As an author, Registered Nurse, and consultant he works with nurses and healthcare organizations to understand how to utilize digital tools to advance their profession and practice, and engage patients and providers. In 2008, Rob started NursingIdeas.ca a website to connect nurses with leaders and researchers in healthcare, in 2011 his book The Nurse's Social Media Advantage was published, and in 2012 it was awarded the American Journal of Nurse's Book of the Year award. Currently, he sits on the board of VON Canada (a national Canadian home care organization), and is exploring the impact of mobile devices and consumer health products on health and healthcare.

Was the first person to buy a fax machine incredibly smart and perceptive or simply foolish? Points could be made both ways, since the first fax machine was probably not cheap and provided the least value. Who else could you fax to? No one.

When you think about the idea of a networked device it can be funny to think about how we get a network started. Until there are two participants you cannot do anything with them.

The true power of a network is not the original device, but what is possible with the network. Each additional member brings a significant increase in value. There is a more technical explanation of this concept called Metcalfe’s law [expressed as n(n-1)/2], if you are interested. However, the underlying concept is that the value increases in proportion to a square for each new member. So the value of a network with 1 person is 0, a network with 5 people increases in value to 10 and a network of 7 people has a value of 21. Even in these small numbers you can see the significant growth. In a nutshell, this is why social media and digital tools are so powerful and are becoming more exciting in healthcare.

Both patients and providers are joining online networks. Access to smartphones and webservices is opening up new possibilities for sharing information, collaborating on projects, and managing illness. Studies report that up to 80 percent of adults with access to internet in the United States use it to access healthcare-related information (Fox & Jones, 2011). A Canadian survey found 77 percent of nurses using social media for personal and/or professional reasons (College of Nurses of Ontario, 2012).

These numbers are increasing the power of online networks, which can be both good and bad. Some healthcare providers have managed to reduce cost of delivery by 30% using digital tools. Others have unfortunately suffered regulatory consequence for misuse of social media (Healthcare performance, 2010).

Social media many not have started in healthcare, but it is here to stay. This OJIN topic brings valuable research and expertise to light on the emerging presence of social media in healthcare. The authors provide an important contrast of perspectives, giving nurses an insight into both risks and benefits of social media.

Spector and Kappel start this topic, in “Guidelines for Using Electronic and Social Media: The Regulatory Perspective,” by introducing the importance of understanding social media’s impact on professional practice. Through illustrative case studies, exploring misconceptions, and outlining available resources from international organizations this article provides a firm foundation. In addition to providing a clear understanding and categorization of the challenges nurses face, the authors provide useful recommendations for employers and educators for approaching guidelines for use of social media.

Building on the recommendations for educators Schmitt, Sims-Giddens, and Booth, explore “Social Media Use in Nursing Education.” This article brings key insights into trends that are driving a need for shifting nursing pedagogy as well as practical examples of how this is happening. Their review summarizes the literature on potential benefits, and discusses best practices and professional issues, and studies that explore efficacy or value of social media and digital tools in nursing education.  Beyond helpful illustrative research cases the authors use other practical examples of how social media can be integrated into education. In the discussion the authors also comment on advantages and disadvantages of using social media and share tips for faculty who are interested in beginning to integrate it into the curriculum.

Moving from the classroom to clinical settings Weaver, Lindsay, and Gitelman share what they have learned and why nurses are and will be critical to the implementation of digital tools in healthcare. In “Communication Technology and Social Media: Opportunities and Implications for Healthcare Systems,” the authors outline the significant potential for impacting modifiable health behaviors (e.g., medication adherence, exercise), improving patient-provider communication, and improving efficiency and reach of communication. The authors blend their experience working in communications and research evidence on effective implementation of social media to help provide a vision to help nurses lead change in this area.

Donelle and Booth move from a broad analysis of social media to how a particular web service is being used in the context of health, in "Health Tweets: An Exploration of Health Promotion on Twitter. Using the Determinants of Health framework from the Public Health Agency of Canada the authors analyzed 2400 public messages (tweets). The content of these messages was analyzed and grouped into categories: health services, personal health practice and coping skills, education and literacy, advertising, and other. Along with discussion of these themes the authors insert tweets, as a helpful example to illustrate how Twitter is being used. Donnelle and Booth also provide a broad and rich perspective on media and health, media and politics, and implications for practice of Twitter.

Finally, in “Advancing Nursing Practice Through Social Media: A Global Perspective,” Barry and Hardiker remind us that nursing is an international profession advancing the way we share knowledge globally. The authors discuss the significant growth in the use of technology, as well as the importance of professional conduct implications for nurses. Global impact of social media on health equity and access (through access to mobile devices as internet enabled devices for both consumers and providers) is also discussed. As the authors suggest, social media has a lot of implications, and they conclude the article through discussion of the implication for individuals; healthcare and educational institutions; professional associations and regulators.

If you have comments or thoughts you would like to share the journal editors invite you to respond to this OJIN topic by sending a Letter to the Editor or by submitting a manuscript. These are both welcome and will further discussion and understanding about how we can continue to advance the nursing profession, improve patient care, and prevent regulatory issues through social media.

Robert Fraser, MN, RN
E-mail: contact@robertfraser.ca

Fox, S., & Jones, S. (2011). The social life of health information. Pew Internet and American Life Project. Retrieved from www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2009/8-The-Social-Life-of-Health-Information.aspx

© 2012 OJIN: The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing
Article published September 30, 2012


College of Nurses of Ontario. (2012). Survey says….Nurses weigh in on social media. The Standard, 37(2), 14-15. Retrieved from www.cno.org/Global/pubs/mag/TSMVol37No2.pdf

Fox, S., & Jones, S. (2011). The social life of health information. Pew Internet and American Life Project. Retrieved from www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2009/8-The-Social-Life-of-Health-Information.aspx

HPM Institute. (2010) Healthcare performance management in the era of “Twitter.” Retrieved from www.hpminstitute.org/Era_of_Twitter

Citation: Fraser, R., (September 30, 2012) "Overview and Summary: Social Media and Communication Technology: New "Friends" in Healthcare" OJIN: The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing Vol. 17, No. 3, Overview and Summary.