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'Social media is here to stay, so practice must adapt accordingly'

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Social media is everywhere.

You hear people referring to ‘hash tags’ and Facebook pages. Organisations are starting to make more and more use of these communication opportunities. This includes some health organisations. You only need to look at what the Mayo Clinic is doing and you can see the potential.

Even if we try to ignore it personally, the chances are our patients and/or their carers and families will be on Facebook, YouTube, Skype and Twitter. If we decide to be ‘technology light’ in our personal lives we still have a professional responsibility to be clear about what matters to our patients and, in some instances, change practice to stay modern and up-to-date.

In a conversation I had with a midwife recently, she told me about a lady who had just given birth to her first baby. The lady told the midwife that she wouldn’t need to send any birth announcement cards because these days ‘things like that were done on Facebook’.

The midwife was at first horrified but then went on to accept that the lady had control of who her friends were on Facebook and that, in fact, this was little different to birth announcements that once upon a time would have been published in the local newspaper!

I believe social media is part of the future, so professionals need to learn more about its potential, as well as ensuring we know how to use it personally and professionally in line with the sound advice provided by the NMC.

What exactly do I mean by ‘social media’? Social media is the use of the internet to communicate and interact with each other through online conversations and by sharing content. such as comments, pictures and video clips on websites, to be seen and shared by all.

As a professional, I think it’s useful to focus on social media in three broad ways:

  • Using social media personally but staying professional
  • Using social media in a professional development and networking context
  • Using social media with patients

Most of the conversations we have lump all these uses together and as a result people often take a polarised view. They may feel strongly that they want to use it in their personal lives but don’t know how it can be used to help patients or as a potential professional development opportunity. They can’t also see how it could be trusted for use with clients.

Often it is clear that people don’t understand what social media actually is, or how it could help, and, I suspect, fear drives them to the view that it should be ‘banned’ and many organisations try to limit the use of social networks without exploring the potential.

My view is more liberal. I feel we need to be clear on how we stay professional while using social networks. Registered professionals explore the opportunities it provides for us to stay up-to-date as individual practitioners and as a community of practitioners. Lastly, for those to explore how we can safely meet the expectations of patients and deliver care in the emerging new world that social media provides.

Anne Cooper, National Clinical Lead for Nursing

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