Recap: Ann Fuller on Social Media and Health Care Reform
Friday, May 18th, 2012

In the era of health care reform, social media can help hospitals improve patient care, patient support, health research, education, training, advocacy and more.

I recently heard Ann Fuller (Public Relations Director at CHEO – the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario) talk about current and potential uses for social media in health care, as well as some of the related risks and opportunities.

Fuller emphasized the potential of social media to reach beyond the walls of hospitals to educate the public, involve patients in their health and recovery using new tools and prevent hospital visits through health promotion. Fuller thinks social media can be used to improve access to health care specialists, improve the quality of health care, and decrease costs. She described some interesting examples of current and possible social media uses in health care:

  • filmpossible: a video contest to bring visibility to disability;
  • Community building around different health issues, for example “Totally ADD” and the Mood Disorders Society of Canada forum;
  • Using social media to improve health outcomes, through a smoking cessation program like “qwitter” or a mobile app to monitor irritable bowel disease in real time called “myIBD”;
  • Using Twitter status updates in emergency rooms to increase patient understanding:
  • Livetweeting surgery to educate the public; and,
  • text4baby: A free service that provides information via text message to expectant mothers.

Fuller identified a few challenges that come with using social media for communications:

  • How to respond to vocal patient groups who take to social media to present their case for controversial treatments (e.g. liberation therapy for MS patients)?
  • Privatization of health information (e.g. Facebook users can now indicate to their friends that they are organ donors. Could Facebook sell this information if organ donation is one day privatized?)
  • Liability: If a patient on a hospital Facebook page suggests using a poisonous herb to treat an ailment on a hospital Facebook, is the hospital liable? If a psychiatrist “friends” a patient, and fails to notice erratic behaviour which leads to death, is the psychiatrist liable?
  • Privacy concerns: Parents could inadvertently “out” their children with mental illnesses by thanking a hospital team on a hospital Facebook page
  • Barriers to using social media: age and language

One element of health care that Fuller overlooks, however, is using social media as a tool to involve patients, community members and employees in the discussions about how the system should be changed. As a few of our recent projects have demonstrated, (like this one) there is great potential to use social media to solicit ideas on tackling health care issues, engage citizens in priority setting, and have the public weigh the pros and cons of possible solutions.

-Stephan Telka –

  1. Holly Clark says:

    It’s really interesting how we have incorporated social media, a tool that
    pushes the boundaries of privacy into such a diverse, inherently private realm.
    That being said, however, it is inspiring to know that there is also a great
    strength to be leveraged in social media: the potential to engage citizens in the
    greater discussion about how the system should be changed.

    Clearly, these
    discussions are sprouting up in more places than one. The Mayo Clinic Centre for
    Social Media is hosting the 4th Annual Health Care Social Media Summit from
    October 16-18, in Rochester, Minnesota. The event will aim to engage patients,
    employees and the media in the digital age. Check out the event here:, and on Twitter: (#mayoragan).

    Glad to see the
    discussions continue!