- Social Media and Health at Lagos Social Media Week - February 24, 2014
I was named a panelist to discuss the ‘Global Health, Technology and Social Media’, a topic that is a very welcoming one for the health professionals, journalists and community workers, as well as the HealthIT geeks like myself. We were all looking forward to what promised to be a hugely intellectual and engaging discussion, but not Femi Oke; the former CNN, now Al Jazeera journalist. Femi changed the complexity of our Social Media Week panel once she came on board and there were few regrets if any afterwards. After her timely intervention, we found ourselves discussing ‘Social Media: It’s Good For Your Health’; a better crowd-appealing topic than the previous thesis-like topic. There was the virtuoso Chika Oduah around Femi all the time, so it is possible that they had rubbed minds; also possible that the topic change was ignited by the Al Jazeera PR team, however Femi championed what was to be an unforgettable panel discussion.
By now, you should get the point. Global Health is a big issue – financially and mortality wise. Technology like it always has, offers plenty viable solutions to even the most pertinent problems, while Social Media is currently the tool in vogue and high demand. It is almost suicidal for the doctor, practitioner, journalist or HealthIT geek to ignore the ubiquity of mobile phone and internet-connected patients (and users), in offering delivery. That is why discussing Global Health, Technology and Social Media made much sense – or rather was the only option. But there was and still is the bigger conundrum of healthcare, which has always been the tipping point/stumbling block for technology or social-media-driven solutions. The challenge and question is: “How do you get the average person interested in their health?” Take a minute and put yourself in the ‘average person’ definition – How many health apps do you have on your smart phone? When last did you use them? Do you ‘read’ health tips? Do you follow a healthy diet/exercise plan? Do you see your doctor regularly when there’s no problem? A quick check will find us all wanting in some way in this regard, and we’re hardly to blame.
During our SMW talk, we raised quite a number of interesting points:
Firstly, is that we all must rethink healthcare socially – practitioners and patients alike. The history of medicine has shown that the field is slow to adapt technology. Even the popular Stethoscope was originally written off when it was first suggested in the 19th century in its nascent stage. On our panel, Dr. Nkiruka Orajiaka was only joining twitter while the session was on. Funny as that sounds, the reality is that it places her one level above several other doctors. Social Media creates a level of interaction and connectivity that face-to-face contact may not afford the doctor due to time and space. Anonymous questions by patients and answers from professionals can be handled properly on certain technology frameworks.
Secondly, the healthcare technology must be big and robust. The data, support and network of professionals involved must be wide and unlimited. People should be able to search the smallest of health issues and ask the dumbest of questions and still get answers, while practitioners in the most unpopular fields of medicine must be engaged. It must be big that way, and that is where we are headed.
Thirdly, technology healthcare must be personal, as much as it must be social and big. We should be able to reach people by gender, age groups, geography and interests. Today, shopping sites like Amazon collect a data on users’ shopping habits, and use that data to recommend/advertise/promote goods and services. I stated earlier that the user is not to blame for ignoring health tips or news. You must personalize to get people’s attention. We must also build specific solutions that professionals can utilize to foster delivery and interaction at a more personal level with patients.
Our panel also touched on reaching people in rural communities, where mobile technology is in wide spread but solutions built around it are not easily adopted. It may not be entirely possible to change people’s attitude towards their health using social media or technology in the rural communities, sometimes because of illiteracy.
Two ways to tackle this is through: (a) the use of basic platform of SMS to solve problems, and (b) empowering the CHWs (Community Health Workers) to use technology to improve their knowledge base and skill in ensuring delivery.
The future looks bright and set for a highly rewarding marriage of healthcare, technology and social media.
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