Lessons from Gulf Oil Spill and Public Involvement

One of my Mayo Clinic colleagues had a great observation this morning about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and how it relates to patient involvement in health care and our work with the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media:

While I was running this morning and listening to NPR on my iPod, I heard this incredible interview with Retired Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen on working with disasters.

The whole interview is interesting, but the last sound bite -- if you scroll down -- is what caught my attention for a connection to what he is saying and your work/goals with the Center for Social Media.

He basically says that when you have a major public event, never again in the future should we not plan on public participation. He says you can do it through social media, among other ways, but you either "involve them (the public) or they will involve themselves."

Is that not a connection to what we are saying with harnessing our patients' voices through social media in order to learn how their illnesses are affecting their lives and how we can treat them better or participate with them? They've been involving themselves for some time now w/their online support groups, for example, but we are in the infancy of hearing their voice in that way …

Love to hear your thoughts.

Thanks much, Traci

Many health care professionals express angst about social media and concerns about the quality of health information patients get via the Web. But Admiral Allen's observations (and the connection to health care that Traci made) are right on target. As Traci observed, the reality even goes beyond what Admiral Allen sees as the lessons for disaster planning.

It isn't just a matter of "involve them or they will involve themselves" when it comes to health care. Patients are already getting involved in using social media to help them cope with conditions and find answers. Not all patients, but a growing number.

The real question is: Will medical professionals join the conversations that are already happening, to listen to and learn from patients and also to share their medical and scientific expertise for the benefit of the community? And will we help patients who aren't yet participating get involved?

Through the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media we will be encouraging this positive engagement from the medical community. The only way we can have a health care system that truly meets patient needs is by involving patients and their families.

In many ways we have been having segregated conversations. Patients are having their discussions online, and many of the health system reform and quality improvement discussions among medical professionals have traditionally taken place without direct patient involvement.

Through the Social Media Health Network, we plan to help bring these conversations together in a much more regular, systematic way by encouraging health care providers and organizations to engage openly with patients and their families.

If you would like to know more about how to join the Social Media Health Network, call 507-284-5005 or contact the center by email.

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