Attention Nurses: Social Media is not a technology. It's a conversation . . . and it's happening with or without you.

March 20, 2014
Carol Bush, BS, RN
Carol Bush, BS, RN

Carol Bush, BS, RN, is a nurse consultant, blogger and social media Community Manager at The Social Nurse. An oncology nurse activist, she has a passion for helping nurses advance clinical practice by mastering digital tools. At home, Carol loves gardening, cooking, watching college basketball and playing with her granddaughter. Connect with Carol via Twitter @cbushrn or @TheSocialNurse

Last fall, I started working with a couple of nursing colleagues on a project which involves LinkedIn training for oncology nurses. The number one concern voiced ahead of the training by roughly a quarter of those nurses . . . and hundreds more in my personal conversations over the last year?

Last fall, I started working with a couple of nursing colleagues on a project which involves LinkedIn training for oncology nurses. The number one concern voiced ahead of the training by roughly a quarter of those nurses . . . and hundreds more in my personal conversations over the last year?

What should I do if my patients ‘find me’?

Here’s the key . . . and it may sound harsh: We need to get over our phobia about engaging patients in conversation, whether through secure portals, email, and texting or via social networks like Facebook and Twitter . . . even blogs like this one.

It’s a cold hard fact. We lack time to fully educate patients and families during office visits and hospitalizations. Patients expect and need more than we can deliver in those limited episodes. They want to interact with us in real ways, in real time, using modern tools. Heck, I’m a patient! I expect my healthcare team to use modern tools.

Let me tell you a little story about patient engagement and social media.

I ‘fired’ my healthcare provider one morning this past year, after the zillionth time leaving a voicemail message with no return phone call. There was no patient portal available . . . no secure email or messaging. My phone call would go through three layers of messaging before reaching a ‘real clinical person’.

I was frustrated by lack of direct access to my healthcare team. I was angered by the disrespect. I realized my car received more prompt, personalized service and care than I did for my very own health! I knew there had to be a better way . . . and I learned about it via social media.

When I was new to Twitter, I began following and networking with a young physician in our community who was building a direct primary care practice. I knew it was successful, because his practice was growing, he was adding physician and nurse partners, and he was gaining national recognition for his innovative approach. Satisfied patients from all walks of life sung high praises via Twitter and Facebook.

I went to his practice website at 10 am one day and completed demographics, including health history review and list of my needs/concerns. At 10:30 am, that same day, one of the physician partners called me directly, reviewed my history and we scheduled an office visit for the next day

I can email, text or privately direct-message (DM) my new healthcare team. They answer my question or need almost immediately. Lab results are emailed directly to me, by my doctor, with a personal note from him about recommendations for medication changes and follow up. When he takes a vacation, I receive an email with contact information about who is covering in his absence.

The practice has a page on Facebook, and they have a blog on their website. Both are full of practical and helpful information about wellness, prevention and current illness trends. Patients engage and ask general questions about health and wellness. The practice is able to survey patients in real time about service preferences. They share stories about their hobbies and interests and the cool volunteer work their team does in the community. I feel like I am a part of ‘the family’ and I trust them. I tell everyone I know how awesome they are. I share their info across all of my social media channels.

Lesson Learned? We need to meet people where they are. If we don’t, someone else will.

Eighty percent of internet users are looking up health information online today, and one in 5 goes online looking for someone who has a health problem like theirs. Pew Internet.

I’m not talking PCs here, folks . . . smartphones are the great equalizer!

Consider this: 21% of US mobile phone owners mostly go online using their phones, globally it’s higher. We reach for our phones:

  • By Preference --50% of smartphone owners under 30 use the Internet mostly on their phone Source: Pew Internet
  • Out of Necessity --55% of Americans who make less than $30K/yr have no other access at home Source: Pew Internet
  • For Convenience-- 34% just use the device that is closest at hand Source: Google Insights

Humans are innately social . . . and as an extension, health is social . . . but healthcare is not social. This is what drives my passion. I’m NOT a “Social Media Expert". . . far from it. I AM passionate and sincere in my desire to encourage colleagues to shed their fear about using social tools in clinical practice, and join the conversation.

I began my journey to this intersection of healthcare and social media completely clueless . . . but with a question: How might I leverage technology, the internet, social tools, my ability to communicate, and my passion for innovation to play a small part in creating a responsive healthcare system?

One where access to information and data, as well as the ability to communicate and collaborate is as seamless and effortless as it is for people interacting with many other industries.

Why should my car . . . a mere thing . . . be more highly regarded than my wellness? The very essence of my life?

For the 11th straight year, nurses have been named the most trusted profession. Patients and families believe in us and trust our messages. They look to us as curators of accurate health information. Therefore, it’s imperative we use social media and every other online communication avenue to connect people with accurate and evidence-based care information.

It’s a conversation which is happening . . . shouldn’t we join in?