I’ve just attended a couple of exciting study days on social media (SoMe). The first was about digital interaction between patients and clinicians to support those living with and beyond cancer. My colleagues Julie Stein-Hodgins and Jo Taylor presented the clinician and patient perspectives respectively and have blogged about their experiences of the day.
The second day, #SuSoMe, presented an overview of how SoMe can be used to support professional practice and celebrated some of the SoMe-related projects happening at the University of Salford in three areas: professional networking, teaching & learning and research. If Twitter metrics are anything to go by, this was a resounding success. Although the audience numbered around 50 or so, there were 178 contributors through Twitter, 1424 tweets and a reach of 5,771, 795. Astounding!! There’s certainly an appetite for SoMe.
However, it might be argued that Twitterers tweeting about a SoMe study day are going to be pretty engaged on-line! Nevertheless, reflecting on these two days it seems there is a growing passion for SoMe to support professionals and enrich the patient experience. This has also been evident in the active twittering at #UKRC2015 this week.
Yet there are some common issues emerging from both study days and UKRC2015 that need to be tackled if we are to see a more active SoMe community in the imaging and radiotherapy disciplines. Three in particular stick in my mind: i) the dilemma of on-line identity and safety: how does a health professional separate their private face from their public face, and should they?, ii) the need to balance the dichotomy of transparency (inherent in on-line communication) versus confidentiality (the cornerstone of a health professional’s code of ethics) and iii) funding; many of the fantastic projects are woefully under-resourced generally relying on enthusiastic volunteers. Whilst this is an inevitable feature of innovation there is little sign of integration of SoMe as part of everyday practice yet.
This blog considers the first of these issues: professional identity and the fear professionals have expressed about communicating in an on-line space, but in doing so touches on the others.
First let’s consider what happens in our face-to-face world. Interactions can take place in private or in the presence of others. I’ve put this into a table using the labels ‘private space’ and ‘open space’ respectively. Second, as professionals we learn to identify when to present our professional face, i.e. where we communicate in ways that reflect our professional identity and as others might expect a professional to behave. I have called this the ‘professional face’. We also learn when that type of communication is not required, such as when we are socialising with family and friends. I have called this our ‘private face’. (The notion of face is not new – see Erving Goffman’s work, very interesting). Thus in face-to-face encounters this simple model presents us with 4 domains within which we interact.
However, social media presents us with 4 more domains; (table 2) or does it? The answer depends on how we interpret the word social and how we conceptualise ‘social’ media? Some might assume that ‘social’ pertains to interactions of an informal nature, where friendly companionship and relations are developed and confidences shared. For these people ‘social media’ is associated with ‘private-face’ oriented communication spaces, i.e. primarily on-line domain ‘2’ in table 2. Understandably, such people might find it hard to see how professional interactions can take place with patients and colleagues using social media. They may see this as an invasion of their own private space, be concerned about finding an appropriate level of formality in their communication and be confused about the identity or face they should display.
Table 2: Domains of face-to-face and on-line interaction for professionals
However, a more anthropologically-oriented definition of ‘social’ in social media is the existence or development of communities or organised groups with a common purpose. The common purpose in this instance would be all those activities which constitute our day-to-day professional activities. Considering the ‘social’ of social media in this way emphasises activity in domains 3 & 4 rather than domain 2. In this regard, it is easier to see how we can retain our ‘professional face’ and therefore ensure we are working within our professional and legal boundaries. This is because as professionals we are easily able to manage such dilemmas in face-to-face public encounters and so our interactions in on-line open spaces should be no different.
Table 3: Examples of SoMe interactions in domains 3 & 4
(Domains in red would not be recommended for professional use of SoMe)
With this in mind we can see that on-line dialogue between patients and health professional is merely an extension of the clinical encounter. Remaining professional at all times, whether on-line or face-to-face should be our aim. The on-line space just permits us to communication at different times and with like-minded people we might never have previously encountered. Realising this, opens up potential for changing the way we engage with patients. Some examples are indicated in the table but we need to explore how we can harness this technology and operate within domains 3 & 4 to resolve some of our service problems and enhance the patient experience in imaging and therapy.
Is this too simplistic an overview? I’d be interested in your views.