Are you a tweet-aholic? Constantly glued to the LinkedIn app? Raising profiles, supporting publicity campaigns and building industry relationships are all valid and worthy reasons for healthcare IT companies to actively engage with social media, but do we know when to stop?

One high profile casualty to the social media machine was ex-footballer and TV presenter Gary Lineker, after he left Twitter stating: “It tends to take over and I thought I would try life without it.” There is no doubt that professionals who engage with social media have little escape from it – many of us now have smart phones with Facebook et al accessible at the touch of a, er, touch screen.

Growing social networks in healthcare
Adoption of social media in healthcare is increasing rapidly, with over 150 NHS trusts now on Twitter and more than 162,800 users on LinkedIn with NHS in their job title. Whilst many of these users engage in social media in a commercial capacity, the medium is being accepted more and more by healthcare professionals for clinical purposes.

Indeed, The King’s Fund sees the rise in use of social media as a significant technological trend in healthcare which ‘is already supporting new online communities of patient groups, and the impact on health and social care can be expected to grow, particularly with increased transparency about services and outcomes.’

With the NHS’ move towards virtual healthcare empowering patients and self-diagnosis high on the agenda, this week new guidance was published by NHS Employers, the support and advisory service for NHS employees, which said that the health service should realise the benefits of social media and that there should be a more permissive approach to staff. In my opinion, organisations should embrace the new medium, not be scared of it. When email was first introduced it created uncertainty about security and productivity in the workplace, but alas, we can now not work without it.

The new communication tool in town
Social media is the new communication tool and changing the way people connect with each other. But let’s not get carried away. Whilst I can access general health advice and updates from my local trust via Twitter, I am still receiving medical correspondence rather than say an email from my GP, so I suppose it’s a case of one step at a time.

The difference is that I have been given a platform, via Twitter, to pick and choose news feeds from organisations that I am interested in. In the same respect, trusts have an affordable mechanism to push messages out. What’s more I can share these messages with my peers far more easily through social media than any other medium. This facility is an attraction in its own right.

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For example, ‘sharing’ or ‘liking’ articles on LinkedIn can quickly build a company/personal profile without having to actually generate an opinion, or stance on the subject. It simply lets you associate yourself/your company with industry news in a very time efficient way.

It is clear there are many social and commercial advantages within social media we have fallen in love with, but relying on it solely is also a risk. Corporate or professional messaging needs to come from an integrated mix of platforms including digital and print. After all, social media in its current form will not last forever and the heartbreak maybe hard to recover from.

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