I often feel a certain sense of heart sink when people open their consultation with “I’ve looked on the internet” firstly because they may not have looked on a “proper” site and secondly because they have may more knowledge than me!
Social media has had quite a significant impact on my role as a nurse practitioner in general practice. Over the last few years I have noticed an increase in the number of patients that consult with me, who have already sought information, help and advice on the internet on a variety of websites, blogs and social media networks. There are, as you would imagine pros and cons associated with this. For example the more naïve believe everything that they see/read and are unaware that some of the information given is mis-informed, exaggerated or personal opinion. They often come with pre-conceived ideas which are sometimes difficult to let go of. Understanding of symptoms can be an issue as patients’ perception of symptoms can be very different to that of those who have been brought up with medical jargon. Similarly the assumption that all conditions present as the “text book case” can lead to delay in attendance. There is a saying that my mum often quotes at me, “ a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing”! which, to an extent I believe to be true. Certainly on occasions I find patients come to me with real concerns which stem from something they had seen on the web, which proved to be far-fetched hogwash.
As a regular facebook user (not a fan of twitter as I have tried and failed to get the hang of it on too many occasions) I made a choice not to accept patients as friends on face book, (unless I knew them as friends before they became patients) as I consider it could compromise the patient/nurse relationship, but conversely friends sometimes become patients when they ask “Rosie you’re a nurse…….”
I saw a post recently which showed a syringe and needle and had 4 “facts” about immunisations, stating that they “were going to be used for biological warfare, were known to weaken the immune system, were only 10% effective and were unnecessary because the diseases they were supposed to prevent no longer existed”. I was appalled that this had received so many comments in support of the claims and needless to say vented my spleen accordingly to ask what evidence the author had used to support his/her argument. I had a heated debate with the person who had “liked” it, whom I know to be a reasonably intelligent young man, but he chose to have his own opinion which he based on evidence he had found on the net. My understanding is that this is not valid evidence, but who is right and what impact will such negative beliefs have on herd immunity, particularly in light of the worrying whooping cough epidemic that is currently threatening to cause illness and death to our newborn babies?
Notwithstanding all of this, the benefits that can be gained from using the wealth of information available on t’internet (as the lovely Peter Kay calls it) far out weigh the disadvantages, in my opinion. My personal belief is that social media is probably of more value after a condition has been diagnosed rather than before, but then I cannot account for how many patients now use this platform successfully rather than coming into the surgery. Rather than feeling threatened by the culture change that social media represents in terms of being a more sought after and more easily accessible knowledge base than the traditional health professional; I embrace it as the way forward and feel that it generally corroborates and reiterates the information we give in consultation.
I have a special interest in Cervical Cytology Screening and Ear Care and as an “expert” in both areas of nursing, teach both to other nurse and GP colleagues. I refer patients and students to a host of different sites including Jo’s Trust which is an interactive site about disease and abnormality of the cervix, developed in the memory of a young woman called Jo who died from cancer of the cervix. Similarly Breast Cancer Care which again is a great help for women who suffer from the disease, or for relatives caring for them. I could go on forever quoting good sites, but one which has changed my life (sounds dramatic but is actually true!) is NHS Choices, which is a good guide to healthy living and very motivational. I have to admit that researching this site to check it out before suggesting it to anyone has had an impact on my own personal fitness, as it inspired me to start running. I was looking at a graduated programme of exercise for my less than fit patients and discovered the “couch to 5k” plan. I have always hated running and avoided it at all costs, but a light went on inside my head and I thought “maybe I could do this”! I can now be seen plodding along the promenade in my hometown (if you are up at 5.45 am!) looking suitably “pink and puffed”! At least I practice what social media preaches! And what’s more I boast about it on face book with my 0-5k app which logs in every time I run and gives me so much support from my facebook friends.
I am sure that social media will continue to go from strength to strength and despite some misgivings say “bring it on!”.
Rosie Thompson is a Nurse Practitioner, Cervical Screening Mentor ERYPCT
Ben Steele talks with Eduardo Tchouhadjian, CEO of E. Tchouhadjian & Associates, about how...
NICE have announced the publication a new set of briefings designed to increase uptake of...
30% of pharma executives expect business as usual, as they admit to expecting blockbuster-type...