Earlier this month I had a dream in which the role of social media in relation to health care was clearly laid out before me.
Of course, the minute I woke up the clarity of this relationship was lost. All that remained was a sense that the ways we frame how social media tools and platforms can and should influence medicine and the delivery of health care must go beyond conceptual models we are currently using.
(And, yes, those who think I should get a life so I dream about more interesting topics are correct).
This lingering residue of the dream leaves me convinced we must stop thinking about social media platforms in relation to health care as mere extensions of traditional media and defining social media’s impact in those terms.
It has become abundantly clear that social media are not going to become significant new channels for the delivery of health care services or even health information anytime in the near future. I can still name by name among the tens of thousands of practitioners, the physicians, nurses and pharmacists who effectively use major social media channels such as Twitter and Facebook for professional purposes in Canada – and that’s after these channels have been available for a decade.
In Canada at least the language of social media is just not part of the health care professional’s lexicon.
That being said, I do believe social media are having a transformative impact on health care in ways that are more subtle and indirect.
For example, Twitter and LinkedIn are building connections between health care practitioners, researchers, pundits and patients on a global basis in ways that would have been impossible in the past. My own experiences with doctors in the Philippines and Ireland can attest to that.
And through those connections, we now have physicians and other health care providers with an empathy for patients they would not otherwise have had because they experienced these patients’ stories through blog posts, Twitter exchanges and other social media channels.
Despite the fine work done by medical futurists such as Drs. Eric Topol (@EricTopol) and Bertalan Mesko (@berci) – we cannot predict the future direction of medicine and health care because the variables, the unknowns and the complexity of interactions between these two are just too numerous to accurately map.
But I am confident that social media will be playing a role – one that is very different from what we would predict based on past experiences with other media. The details of my dream may be lost but the fading general outline of the theoretical construct for this role remains to guide me.
Having recently parted ways with the Canadian Medical Association, I now have more scope to observe this evolving nature of this interplay between social media and health.
And so, on to 2016 and the next chapter.