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Professional practice, Technology

Healthy social media

COT’s outgoing Web and Social Media Editor, Allegra Holbrook, shares some thoughts on how the healthcare sector and healthcare professionals can best utilise social media.

After 12 months supporting occupational therapists and promoting occupational therapy on social media, I am saying goodbye to COT to move on to a new challenge. I have met some amazing people during my time here, and learned a great deal about the incredibly rich and diverse world of OT. What has impressed me most during my year in this role is how passionate OTs are about what they do, and how enthusiastic they are to take up new challenges.

It can be easy for professionals, particularly those who are more experienced, to become set in their ways and resistant to new ideas or methods. Working with OTs, however, I have found overwhelming interest and enthusiasm for digital technologies. Not that there isn’t some nervousness around getting to grips with this new world, but there is an eagerness to explore.

Perhaps the biggest barrier to social media use for healthcare professionals is that anyone employed in an NHS setting will have extremely limited access to the internet during work hours. This is changing slowly as the NHS becomes more aware of the benefits of social media and digital platforms for CPD and learning, and individual staff members can make the case for access to online platforms by explaining and demonstrating the benefits to their manager. However, with smartphones and tablets now becoming more and more widely available, you can carry the internet everywhere you go. So if you can’t get online on a work computer, you can use a few minutes of your down-time to catch up on what your fellow OTs are saying on Twitter, read a post on Facebook, read a blog, listen to a podcast, or check out some OT videos on YouTube. You can connect with a huge online community of healthcare professionals, commissioners and service users who can answer questions, share information, or inspire you with innovative new concepts.

Another obstacle to OTs and other healthcare professionals engaging with social media is one that is entirely self-inflicted: a lack of self-confidence, and a reluctance to speak up. Social media is a dialogue. You can watch from the sidelines, but you’ll get far more out of it if you participate. COT hosts Twitter chats like #COTcpdclub and #COTstudentchat and we often see people favouriting or retweeting our tweets but being too afraid to join in. Don’t be scared! When people or organisations engage in social media, they are looking for interaction with people just like you. They want to hear your thoughts and questions, and there is no such thing as a wrong answer or a stupid question. All these people using social media are human, and they want to talk to other humans, not perfect, know-it-all robots. So come and talk to us, please!

Above all else, the major concern that I have been hearing from OTs is a worry about doing the wrong thing. Healthcare is a highly risk-averse industry, and rightly so. When people’s wellbeing rests in your hands, every action has consequences. The media has given the impression that healthcare professionals are regularly being sacked or struck off for careless tweets or Facebook posts, so it’s not surprising that many are hesitant about giving it a go. The fact is that disciplinary actions as a result of social media activity are incredibly rare. When they do happen, it’s for the kind of behaviour that would make your hair stand on end. Here are two examples, one from January this year and another involving a nurse and healthcare worker in September last year; but be warned, some of the content may be disturbing.

The key thing you need to remember when using social media is that professional conduct applies online exactly the same as offline. Refer to the COT Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct and the Professional Standards, and make sure you keep these in mind at all times. The HCPC also has guidance around using social media as a professional. COT has guidance here and will be updating this in the coming months. Bearing all of this in mind, I have 5 top tips for you:

1) Maintain confidentiality at all times. This should go without saying, but you should never discuss service user details on social media. If you are discussing your practice, always keep to general concepts, not specific cases.

2) Remember that you are in a public space. It’s easy to think you are just chatting to your friends on social media, but everything you say is public. Even if you have high security settings or you use a pseudonym, it’s quite simple for people to copy and share your content or for it to show up in search engines. People can easily connect a personal account with a professional identity, so don’t think that having separate accounts will keep your content secret. Before you post anything to any account, stop and think: would you want your grandmother or your boss to read this? If not, don’t post it.

3) Social media is not the forum for dealing with disputes. If you have an issue with your employer, a colleague, another professional or your education provider, deal with it through official channels, not online. You will damage your case, and your professional reputation, and could get yourself in legal trouble by using social media as an outlet for anger or frustration.

4) Don’t make it all about you. No one wants to follow someone on social media who only talks about themselves. If you write a blog or have your own business, do share it on social media. But make sure you also signpost information and resources that aren’t your own. (NB. Don’t reproduce documents unless you are sure that they are not under copyright. Share the website address where the document can be downloaded instead.)

5) Participate. Social media is a dialogue and you will get much more out of it if you participate in conversations, ask questions, and speak up for your profession. You can find resources to help you promote occupational therapy on the COT website.

I’m going to miss working with occupational therapists, but I hope to see more and more of you in social media spaces, talking about your profession and the amazing work that you do.

Feel free to come and talk to me on Twitter – @AllegraHolbrook – any time!





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