Creative Engagement: Part 2
By David Inglis. Paediatric Dietitian [Twitter @inglis_86]
Last week I described potential ways to use common online practices to create engaging content for service users and the general public. This week focuses on how to signpost to content and getting your information seen by large audiences. The web provides a space to host content, signposting to which can reinforce learning or act as first line/early intervention resources, potentially reducing the need for referral and clinical contact.
It also offers the opportunity to change from a reactive model, whereby information is shared to an individual upon receipt of a referral is received, to a more proactive model, whereby answers to common service user issues can be hosted online. This has several benefits in that: it is a more efficient way of sharing information; the patient’s problems can be dealt with earlier (i.e. before a clinic appointment becomes available) which will reduce the chance of the problem escalating; it empowers patients and carers to find the solutions that p with their situation and lifestyle as opposed to them feeling dictated to; and could prevent the need for some patients to need to see clinicians, thus improving waiting times, DNA rates etc. Such resources are often viewed as a luxury addition however there is no reason, with appropriate piloting, they could not be embedded as part of standard pathways.
Bookmarking apps and websites, such as Pinterest and Symbaloo, enable health professionals to direct people to appropriate online content. Pinterest allows the collation of related sites into ‘boards’ which other users can view and follow as the content is updated. To use a nutrition example, recipes are a common theme amongst Pinterest users and it would be fairly straight forward to create an Allergy board, gather together appropriate common allergen-free recipes and share them with newly diagnosed patients. As more appropriate content is discovered the board can be added to keep users interested. Symbaloo uses a similar approach where links to relevant websites can be turned into buttons on a webpage, in this case known as a webmix, and these can also be shared.
This approach can also be replicated with video media on YouTube and Vimeo which are full of relevant content created by amateur videographers, healthcare institutions and professional groups. These videos contain many useful content for patient groups including practical solutions to common problems, education on health and nutrition, and documentary-style personal perspectives of living with health conditions to name just a few. Channels can be used to gather together relevant content and links to the channel can be shared with relevant groups; which would make useful asset mapping activities for our students!
Twitter can be another effective platform for signposting relevant content to your followers. It can sometimes be difficult for users to filter through the vast amount of tweets that are generated however your followers can set-up notifications to advise them of when your account produces activity. You can also create a regular hashtag which is added to your tweets and your followers can use this as a search term to find related content. For example, Allied Health Professionals with an interest in eHealth use #enmahp to advertise and monitor regular updates.
The value of signposting is that the internet is already full of useful resources and signposting to these saves healthcare staff from reinventing the wheel, as the creation of such content often requires lots of planning, applying for funding and impacts upon clinical time.
Forums are an extremely popular way of problem solving on the internet. These replicate the way in which group sessions can be effective in the clinical setting whereby individuals in similar situations share experiences and solutions to common issues. This can often be a more facilitative environment for change than where people feel that they are being dictated too by professionals that have not walked in their shoes. Theoretically forums could confer significant benefit to healthcare as they facilitate empowerment and self-sufficiency of a community which ultimately could reduce the burden on services. Unfortunately, while effective suggestions are more likely to be shared and replicated more frequently than ineffective ones, forums are not moderated for the quality of information that is being provided which has the potential to lead to the spread of bad practice.
However these are places that the public like to go to access information. In the paediatric environment mumsnet.com is accessed by parents to answer questions they have significantly more often than any NHS website. An interview with Mumsnet founder Justine Roberts in 2013 reported that the site received almost 7 million visitors and amassed approximately 50 million page views a month. The Google Trends graphic below shows the comparative activity for NHS Choices, NHS Informs and Mumsnet as a Google search terms within the UK in the last five years. Given the numbers discussed above Mumsnet unsurprisingly comes out on top. Even people who do not communicate in forums will read discussions by others to get relevant information.
Given it is such a major medium for public engagement the idea of utilising forums within NHS platforms often comes up. However there are frequently concerns regarding governance and how these can be moderated to prevent the spread of inaccurate information and particularly the impression that the NHS is advocating this advice.
Rather than hosting our own forums perhaps the solution to this conundrum is to engage with the charities and companies that own forum sites to enable us to have input into this arena.
Reddit is a widely used forum site where users can create communities and join discussions for every imaginable topic – I would highly recommend it to any Game of Thrones fans. A popular feature of Reddit is its AMA (Ask Me Anything) section, where celebrities and professional people advertise that they will be live blogging at a certain time on the site and invite questions from the public. This model would be a way to create content on sites such as Mumsnet which had a scientific backing to their claims and has the potential to be seen by millions of people. A few hours worth of work would cover a broad range of topics. One of my colleagues has worked in this manner for a cancer charity and has reported that it can be quite effective.
These blogs have described merely a handful of potential ways to creatively engage with the general public. One of the best things about working with digital technology is that the opportunities are fairly endless and you are really only limited by your imagination. Many of the things mentioned across the blogs, such as Twitter and YouTube, have now been in existence for a decade or more but healthcare can be slow to incorporate new media.
However health affects everyone and as AHPs who need to communicate with the public to be effective we should not be afraid to try to use social tools which may appear like fads, because like YouTube they may become an embedded part of daily life. Ultimately to converse with people you have to go to where they are and speak in their language.