August 30, 2011

Social Media, Third World Medicine and Yesterday


I'm fortunate. My job actually requires that I spend time on Facebook and on Twitter. Let me give you three examples of how that impacted "Third World" medicine just yesterday alone. First a word of explanation - my job title is Manager of Partner Relations for God's Littlest Angels which is an orphanage outside of Port Au Prince Haiti. Calling Haiti "Third world" is being nice and I love the country and it's people.

Three examples of how Twitter and Facebook impacted medicine in Haiti just yesterday:
The power of Facebook to spread stories. Yesterday, I got an e-mail from a lady who is a friend of a lady who knows someone who I'm friends with on Facebook (follow that?). The friend of the friend of the friend heard through her friends that we at the orphanage were looking for certain life saving medications that we were having a hard time getting. Long and short of it, she happens to be the Chief Medical Officer for a regional medical center. Some of what we were looking for will be sent to us very soon and the rest will be sent as soon as they get it off back order. Lives will be saved because of Facebook.

The power of Twitter to meet needs of the medically fragile. Due to Twitter, I've had the privilege of becoming friends with a doctor who works part time in Haiti and part time in the Midwest. She contacted me via Twitter yesterday - "Hey Tom, do you guys still need XXXXX like you had blogged about last week?" (I'm 99% certain that the only reason she read the blog was because it feeds to twitter automatically) I tweeted back that we did. Turns out they got a shipment in of exactly that medication and won't need more than half of what she has.  They will be dropping off the other half of the shipment to the orphanage within the week. Lives will be saved because of Twitter.

The power of social media to forge relationships that wouldn't happen otherwise. Go back to the story of the Chief Medical Officer above. She has a friend who runs a clinic about an hour away from where our orphanage is located in Haiti. She made introductions and yesterday I got an e-mail from the clinic director - "Hey Tom, we've got a lot more amoxicillin than we'll ever use before it expires in December of 2013. Could you guys use some?" Lives will be saved because of the connections that social media made.

So what? You're probably thinking, how does that impact health care in the "first world?" Let me share a couple of thoughts about that:

  • Every medical professional I've ever met (whether in real life or online) is in the medical field because they really want to make a difference in the lives of others. Social Media creates significantly more opportunities to do that than ever before.
  • Sharing of resources - all three of these examples from yesterday involve the same concept - share your resources with others. I could tell you story after story about how medical professionals in the "first world" have shared their resources, their supplies, their knowledge and their experience and made a difference for others in the less advanced areas of the world.
  • Standing up and asking a question - Social media, particularly Twitter, make it very easy for a medical professional (or patient or _____) to stand up and ask a question. To get input from people outside of their area, to not feel like they are alone, to take advantage of the knowledge that's out there.  That's how I got involved with the Center for Social Media at Mayo in the first place.  (Insert link to the Mayo interview that Lee did)

Yesterday was a good day in the area of connecting the needs of orphans in Haiti with the medical resources that we need to keep them healthy (or get them healthy if they are sick).   I'm looking forward to seeing what today brings!

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