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Social Media and Healthcare - Interview With Dr. Gwenn

Dr Gwenn

With the emergence of social media as a significant cultural force, many healthcare organisations have tried to leverage this power to help the development of public health. The ways in which this should be implemented has become a contentious issue and one that has divided opinion amongst medical professionals.

To offer an expert insight into this world, we set up a one-off interview with Pediatrician and digital media specialist, Dr. Gwenn who is the CEO of health and communications company, Pediatrics Now. Find out what she had to say:

121doc: Modern life revolves around social media. Can you outline the general benefits of such a sweeping online movement?

Dr.Gwenn: Participation in social media channels like Facebook and Twitter can extend peoples view of self, community and, ultimately, the world. These benefits include:

  • Opportunities for community engagement through raising money for charity and volunteering for local events.
  • Enhancement of individual and collective creativity through sharing
  • Fostering of one’s individual identity and unique social skills
  • Expansion of ideas through collaboration on social media ‘out of class’
  • Wider access to health information

121doc: ...What about the negative effects of social media?

Dr.Gwenn: There are some risks associated with social media including:

  • CyberBullying and Online Harassment
  • Facebook depression
  • Privacy concerns
  • Influence of behavioral ads and demographic-based ads

As emphasized in the American Academy of Pediatrics Social Media Clinical Report. I co-authored in 2011, there are, indeed, positive and negative benefits of social media on our kids’ lives. However, the positives do outweigh the negatives. What parents have to recognize is that social media is a tool. It’s the use of the tool that makes it “positive” or “negative”.

121doc: We all know that visiting your local doctor isn’t a social act especially when compared to occasions like shopping or dining. Considering this, do you think a ‘social media meets health’ mentality might distract from the serious issues that healthcare professionals have to deal with?

Dr.Gwenn: Absolutely not. The impact of social media on a child’s health is significant and serious when issues arise such as cyberbullying and sexting that can lead to issues of depression and suicidality if not dealt with adequately. All of these issues impact a child’s health and need to involve a healthcare professional.

A pediatrician specializes in pediatrics, which is the field of medicine that cares for “children and their diseases”. Social media may be a tool but it often is a vehicle for facilitating behaviors in others that trigger conditions in children impact their health and well being, such as cyberbullying or sexting causing depression leading to eating disorders or cutting or suicidality. As long as harm can occur to a child, health care professionals must be involved.

121doc: Recent studies have indicated that 60% of adults turned to the World Wide Web to learn about health. Do you have any advice to those people that search on Google to identify their symptoms?

Dr.Gwenn: If people are concerned about their health and symptoms, the best resource is always their healthcare provider. If they are going to go to “Dr. Google”, reading websites written by true experts are the best ways to avoid misleading information.

121doc: Many experts are saying that Google Glass may change the face of Medicine. Do you agree?

Dr.Gwenn: Google Glass is too new to evaluate at this point for any application, including medicine. As we learn more about it and test it in various settings, its uses will become more clear.

121doc: Do you see any problem with healthcare professionals using social media channels like Facebook and twitter?

Dr.Gwenn: There can be issues with healthcare professionals engaging on social media if they do not follow the privacy rules of their country and healthcare institutions. Before engaging on Facebook or Twitter, healthcare professionals should consult with their healthcare organizations to be clear on the rules and understand what is and isn’t allowed.

121doc: Many people here in the UK are not aware of the Web 2.0 movement. Can you briefly outline its goals and how it can help public health?

Today’s web experience is social and interactive. In a nutshell, that’s what “web 2.0” means. It’s the next generation of web experiences from the initial wave of websites we all remember that were very static and non-interactive. Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Pinterest, Google +, Instagram...all Web 2.0. Communities...web 2.0. Basically, all of your experiences today online are web 2.0.

Web 2.0’s usefulness in public health is constantly evolving. With these tools, experts can get information to huge amounts of people very quickly. From the flu season to unexpected health crisis to world events, this is a valuable way to inform the public of important ways to stay health and help each other out. More locally, web 2.0 helps patients reach doctors, doctors reach patients. Patients can have more control over their health records and obtain prescriptions and other important documents needed to care for themselves and their family members more efficiently.

The main areas I see web 2.0 assisting in our lives are with education, information and communication. Sometimes it’s on a massive scale and sometimes a more local scale. All are needed in today’s world but with web 2.0 tools we can be much more targeted and more efficient.

Some insightful answers from Dr. Gwenn here; her expert knowledge has clarified some important principles about how social media can be integrated into healthcare. Her responses have particular resonance with parents who may be a little skeptical about the affect social media is having on their children. Are you worried about your child’s activity on the web? If so, drop us a comment below and we will endeavor to get back to you.

If you want to discover more about Dr. Gwenn, her book,Cybersafe, offers more information about ‘protecting and empowering kids in the digital world.’

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