Improving Healthcare Provision – the Lessons of Social Media


Whether we are aware of it or not, social media has radically changed how we communicate everywhere in our daily lives. Everywhere, it seems, other than in our healthcare services.

That’s a waste. There are 5 Cs that underpin the social media model – conversation, contribution, collaboration, connection and community. These are the same 5 Cs that should govern our healthcare interactions. And in a world of increasing expectations and rapidly changing demands on healthcare systems, I’d argue a social media-driven approach to patient management allows more opportunities for everyone to participate in healthcare to increase quality of care, improve patient outcomes and lower costs.

In particular, it makes it easier to engage – to exchange views; to increase personal and professional connections and to re-shape and share information in a more efficient and effective way.

After all, in our daily lives when we wish to interact, in addition to the mobile call, we now rely increasingly on the convenience and economy of texting from smartphones; making Skype and FaceTime video calls; re-tweeting information and messages on Twitter; `liking’ posts and assembling friends on Facebook; inviting business associates to follow us on LinkedIn and so on.

Pen, paper and the NHS

Long gone are the days of putting pen to paper or visiting as the only way to stay in touch and to have a conversation, but that is exactly what we are still having to do to secure primary care and prescriptions in the NHS. This is now massively out of sync with the rest of people’s lives.

Unsurprisingly, according to the 2015 Deloitte Millennial Survey, the social media revolution is being primarily driven by Millennials (those who reached adulthood around 2000) with Generation X (those who reached adulthood around 1990) not far behind.

Remaining constantly connected to the world

These digital natives having grown up with virtually unlimited access to computers, the internet, social media, smartphones that enable collaborative working and free exchange of ideas.  Importantly, they see social media as the only viable option for remaining constantly connected to the world. What a shock they must get when, as adults, they encounter the NHS.

Even time starved multi-tasking post war Baby Boomers, many who may initially prefer phone conversations and face-to-face meetings, are quick to see the advantages in terms of enhancement of choice using the apps so loved by Gen X and Millennials. If only because social media can more easily allow them to communicate with and care for their children and parents.

Social media drives the mobile experience 

There is another factor that should be driving us inexorably towards social media as part of the solution to challenges inherent in current healthcare provision and management.

Like it or not we all increasingly rely on our smartphones to manage our daily lives and we should remember it’s social media that is now driving most people’s mobile and laptop experience.

The modern healthcare consumer experience

That’s because Apple, Facebook, Google, WhatsApp and the rest have invested hugely in ensuring that users know exactly what to expect when they swipe the screen or touch or click on an icon.  That’s the experience to which the modern healthcare customers is used and to which they intuitively respond.

That’s important in developing mHealth and digital health platforms and apps that will be shared by patients and professionals alike because the information recorded must be displayed in a way that is intuitive, useful and advantageous for both parties and enables discussion and action that improves outcomes.

In Medelinked, for instance, we take advantage of this by having features called `Timeline` and `Snapshot` as ways of usefully recording someone’s medical history and displaying their current health state that would be instantly familiar and useable for any Facebook user of any generation whether patient or professional.

Don’t develop in a healthcare bubble

The worst thing we can do as professionals, entrepreneurs and innovators is to develop in a healthcare bubble of assumptions and restrictions. This has been happening for too long with a consequent delivery of over-expensive systems that are widely disliked, under-used and sometimes not even fit for purpose. We have to look outside for the best in social media and other consumer applications and see what features could be adapted for the healthcare user.

It’s difficult too not to over-emphasise that our own experiences of the real world puts us at a natural advantage in designing better healthcare user experience – after all we are all patients with a vested interest in optimising our own health state!

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