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Aug 18, 2011 · Leave a Reply

Social Media and Health: Five Key Themes

By Matthew Katz, MD @mattkatz

Editor’s Note: Matt Katz, M.D., is a member of the External Advisory Board for the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media.

Finding the opportunities and risks of social media requires a willingness to question what we know.   I find myself perplexed on how best to use social media effectively, and conversations online suggest that I am not alone. I would like to take a broad view and try to re-frame how we determine whether these technologies are good for our health.

To answer some of the questions I raised already, I have five themes that I propose can guide us:

1.   Social media makes our interactions in healthcare more perplexing. Increasing patient empowerment, problems with medical professionalism and shifting relationships within healthcare create uncertainty.  Social media has the potential to make our interactions more or less healthy but may differ for each disease, person, or online environment.

2.   The concept of “Health 2.0” is too narrow. This is not the first transformation of medicine; adopting internet jargon has a catchy jingle but is inaccurate. A broader historical perspective can help us understand how our current situation is similar or different to past major changes in medicine.

3.    Embracing uncertainty in medicine can improve our health. Medicine has relied on a positivist philosophy, assuming everything can be objectively known.  This approach does not reflect our actual experience in healthcare.  I plan to discuss how heuristics, communication and understanding risk can improve our relationships and decision-making about health.  I believe it provides doctors an opportunity to redefine their role in the future of healthcare.

4.    An ethics-based approach centered on the healer-wounded dyad can help us redefine health. There is a moral component to medicine that has been diminished for too long by the successes and limitations of the scientific method.  I want to explore how social media both changes and fits into an ethical, humanistic model of health that places healing relationships at its core.  And it’s not just about the patient, or the doctor, or any one person – it’s also about we interact in health decisions and experiences.

5.   Social media should complement and enhance human interactions, not replace or degrade them. We may find areas where these technologies are not healthy.  If so, then we have an opportunity to avoid harm both within medicine and society at large.

I may vary in how we discuss these subjects, based upon what crystallizes enough to write about, your comments and current topics that may arise.  I don’t presume to think that my approximations will be entirely correct, only that with careful thought I can help improve upon our current state of uncertainty. I do think it will help lessen the risk of a negative Black Swan -- that our connectedness online may hurt us in real life.

By appreciating how we interact best to heal in analog and digital milieux, I hope that together we can better guide ourselves, the perplexed, on a more perfect path to health and meaningful lives.

Tags: healer-wounded dyad, health 2.0, matt katz, medical ethics, medicine, perplexed, risk, uncertainty, EAB, external advisory board

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