Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Medicine Gets Social

 This blog will be posted some time after it was written due to an outside directive to not talk about my living donor experience until after I have donated.  If you are reading this, it is because I have completed the donation process. 
February 5, 2010
As you may recall, an episode of Grey's Anatomy was one of the catalysts that sent me down the path of this journey towards organ donation. Then, months later, just before I am to go back to Foothills to meet with the program in part about my "social media situation", an episode of Grey's Anatomy airs that touches on social media and medicine. In this particular episode, it was all about Twitter and tweet-teaching. It touched on many of the key debate points that have been ongoing in regards to my ability to blog while moving my way through the medical system and an "anonymous" or non directed donor program.  Sure the "discussions" in the episode probably over simplified some of the risks and benefits but I think overall it made an important statement.  Social media is everywhere, even in health care.

The episode highlights some of the key issues a lot of people (professionally and personally) are encountering with the social networks and the prolific sharing of information online. The first one is that often those in the position to make decisions on whether or not using social media in a work environment is "okay", do not have an awareness or good understanding of the different social media platforms and how they work. When something is new or unknown to us, it is human nature to default to more of a risk based way of assessing.  Is this going to hurt me?  Is this going to cause trouble for people. Could we get sued?
Another point the show brought up is that social media is one of the main ways that younger generations (in this case med students) use to access information. It's real time, it often is delivered in easy to understand short bursts of information.As I have learned from writing this blog, when you write as you go, so many smaller details are captured that would be lost in creating a larger volume of information. With social media, information can also be view virtually anywhere, anytime-it's quick and it's easy. It's also a great tool for group learning and collaboration and can extend the "community" of participates globally.  This allows people to leverage off the experiences and expertise of people they may not have ever had the opportunity to know and interact with otherwise.

But what about the risks? As this episode points out, what if something goes wrong?  What about privacy?  What if people change their mind about the fact that they waived their privacy? Absolutely there are risks. Bad things happen.  Sure, if a surgery went sideways, the whole world (or at least those following the tweets) would know. But is that such a bad thing especially if the goal of the sharing of information in the first place was to teach and learn? Is it only socially acceptable to learn from good things, situations that turn out perfectly or have a high rate of success? Now granted you wouldn't want to have social media be the CAUSE of a procedure not working (I did wonder aloud about how sanitary it was to have so many smart phones out in the O.R.) but I would think there would be steps in place to ensure that doesn't happen.

As for privacy, I will try not to get on my soap box about this one.  I will say however that we as individuals need to determine how much information we want to share with people under what circumstances.  This applies to our personal relationships, our working lives, our medical situations and everything else in between. Think it through.  What is your risk tolerance? How can sharing help or enrich your life?  What could happen by sharing information, good and bad?  What is important to you?  Listen when people present possible risks and benefits to you.  Read them, understand them, ask questions.  Then, when you are ready, make a decision (you may need to rinse and repeat this several places and times in your life). And then, guess what?  Take responsibility for your choices.  Just because other people are involved (there has to be when you share information) does not mean that you can blame them because something happened you weren't prepared for or didn't know. You can change your actions moving forward but you can't get angry, point the finger or sue the moment that things don't go exactly as you planned.

I think its pointless for me to even comment about whether or not social media has a place in medicine and health care because its already happening and its only going to happen more. I obviously do believe its an excellent tool for educating and sharing information-both scientific theory and personal experiences.  I think it has the potential to drive medical advancements at a greater rate of speed as information passes more easily between researchers.  I think, (as I have proven in my own experience of late with the blog) it's also going to keep policy makers and privacy lawyers busy trying to put guidelines in place while its already happening. I also think it has the potential to create greater, more open dialog between patients and their health care providers. There will be some ethical, legal and social bumps along the way but in time, we'll get used to it-and wonder how we ever lived without it.

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