By Chris Lee
The Internet is alive with conversations about healthcare matters, presenting a quandary for healthcare providers and pharmaceutical companies alike as to how to handle the buzz and successfully interact with the public and other professionals.
As well as the challenges of interaction and keeping up with online conversations, brands and providers are bound to codes of conduct, as Ged Carroll, director of digital strategies at PR consultancy Ruder Finn explained.
“The ABPI [Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry] regulations recommend that a brand does not have their social properties open to conversations,” he told NMK. “Working with patient groups and third parties are critical. The focus should be more on listening, what can be learned from third parties- that’s where the real value is.”
The ABPI guidelines for organisations that engage in social media strategies cover areas such as transparency, which staff should run social media channels and the training they should receive, implications for third party providers and encourages familiarity with EU regulations, among other suggestions.
According to prominent nursing blogger Teresa Chinn, who runs the NurChat blog, nurses are also bound to adhere to the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s (NMC) guidelines on social media conduct. This obliges nurses to ensure confidentiality is maintained, uphold the reputation of their profession and ensure that they practice within their professional boundaries.
Chinn’s @NurChat Twitter feed contains discussions that keep to the guidelines and are careful never to talk about specific patients or workplaces.
“I can certainly see the scope for engagement with patients online and we can do this and keep within the guidelines – but at the moment there aren’t many nurses who would have the skills,” she told NMK. “We can engage with patients on a generic level but when it comes to specific information on a current issue with a patient we must always take this into a private space. We must also recognise our own capabilities. i.e. it would not be advisable for a general nurse to tweet answering questions about children’s nursing.”
Chinn said that patients are talking online in their droves and that numerous patient support networks from the large @PatientOpinion network to smaller ventures like Ninja Diabetic, a peer support group for adolescent diabetics, seem to appear almost daily, but Chinn warned of straying across the line.
“What we also have to bear in mind is that many healthcare professionals are very wary of the use of social media in a professional capacity as there have been some scare stories relating to nurses being struck off because of breaches of the code on social media,” she said. “The figures are small but the media is big! This is changing with big pushes from the department of health to encourage us to talk to our patients in the medium that they are using. It’s a fascinating subject and there is so much scope for healthcare – we can talk to patients and I am sure this will happen soon but we have to remember that if we wouldn’t discuss it in a room full of people then it should not be discussed on social media.”
Top tips for the healthcare industry in social media
Dr Dean Browell PhD is co-founder and executive vice president at social media strategist group Feedback, outlines five key principles for healthcare professionals and social media:
- Healthcare needs to be better at listening and observing first: Using internal or external resources, see what your actual target audiences are doing; invest time and money into projects based on your regional trends, not nation-wide trends
- Dabble, note and move on: Take note of the macro-concepts behind new apps, trends and more – but don’t be too distracted until you see your audiences using and adapting; it’s too easy to be distracted by the shiniest object of one audience in healthcare and think it applies to all of them
- Be a part of the technological conversation: Talk to your peers in and throughout your healthcare networks and keep each other abreast of new trends, observations and more; but take all with a grain of salt until you are sure your audiences use them
- You can’t sit on the sidelines if you’re not even in the stadium: You can certainly pretend things won’t move without you, but don’t be surprised when your once-luddite boss comes in with an iPhone 5 playing Angry Birds 2; what obstacles you have today will soon give way to popular use and culture – use this time to study audiences and channels
- You can only hide behind regulation so long: There are plenty of legitimate reasons not to pay attention to a particular social media channel or not – but regulation in not one of them. At the very least regulation does not prevent you from listening carefully and strategising; at worst regulation covers your approach, not the outright question of whether you should utilise. Your audiences are certainly wading in without concern to your regulatory jitters