Why More Nurses Need to Get Social
Nurses are the largest group of healthcare professionals and the largest group of health educators. Because of their prominent role, they’re often needed to interpret and share their vast knowledge, yet they fall behind other professions in terms of adopting new communication technology. Having worked in an academic cancer center for several years, I observed many nurses doing innovative work without ever sharing their knowledge and expertise outside the walls of the center.
Since 80% of patients use the Internet for health information, patients clearly are expressing a need to enhance the education provided by their care team with medical information and advice from the Internet. What better way for patients to learn more about their health condition than to read a blog post or a tweet from their own nurse?
Although 87% of nurses reported using the Internet for professional use, only 11% were on Twitter. How can we encourage more nurses to move beyond being online information consumers to being the online information leaders and creators that they are in the clinical setting? Nurses have the opportunity to assume a leadership role by sharing timely and accurate health information with patients through social media rather than just responding to content that patients bring to them.
Who has the time to blog and tweet?
We all know how hard nurses work, and the last thing we want to do is add one more task to their already demanding job description. Social media needs to be viewed as an important patient teaching tool, not as one more thing to do. Phil Bauman, an early adopter of social media in healthcare, compiled a list of 140 healthcare uses for Twitter, many of which actually save nurses’ time. Saving time is especially important in the midst of healthcare reform and a nursing shortage, given that the role of nurses is being expanded to include more patient education, with a larger emphasis on prevention. Because of the immediacy of information, the wide reach, and the ease of use, social media is a necessary tool for nurses to foster a more prevention-focused health dialogue and promote a positive disease-management experience.
A forum for sharing best practices
Aside from patient education, social media offers new and interesting ways for nurses to interact, to share experiences, and to compare and contrast lessons from their work experiences. Social media applications allow nurses to reach a wide range of colleagues from different disciplines and more quickly than previously possible. Nurses who use social media can attest to the benefits. Some have talked about having previously felt isolated within small clinics before they joined Twitter or found nursing blogs. The resulting interaction helped them to feel more connected to the greater nursing community. Being part of that community involves sharing knowledge. If more nurses took this approach, the online nurse community would be a truly great forum for learning and supporting one another.
I think the best way to sum up social media resistance is with a quote from nursing informatics educator Terri Schmidt: “Social media is like White Castle. You either love it or you hate it, but in the end, you’ll develop an appreciation for it.” I would hope that the long-term health benefits of social media are greater than those of White Castle, but after your first taste of either one, it’s very easy to get hooked.