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online resources for health

Where Social Engagement Meets Medical Needs: 7 Ways Health Systems Can Help

By Social Media

The last two weeks of my life were shanghaiied by a medical issue that resulted in two unsuccessful procedures followed by full-on surgery. I’m recovering. A week post-op I am back to work a few hours a day — a full day if I’m feeling up to it — but definitely sidelined for awhile. I considered it a big accomplishment when I moved from the bed to the couch as my station for the day.

I’ve been grateful for my social network keeping me linked to the outside world and have been able to keep up reading, if not my writing. (There’s something about painkillers that makes it tough to string two coherent thoughts together into sentences and I have found myself stopping in the middle of a thought and completely losing the train . . . )

I found, as I was struggling with symptoms and the very quick looming prospect of surgery that I relied on a variety of online resources. Tools and platforms offered by hospitals, a strong social network, message boards created by those who had undergone the same surgery and even an online tool developed to allow friends to coordinate meals for my family for the next few weeks were all extremely valuable.

It was work to find these resources though — work I didn’t always have the patience for in my uncomfortable state. It got me to thinking about social strategy for health care, something I’ve done often and at a higher level, advising corporate leadership that yes, social media is important. (It’s amazing to me, but maybe not to you, that health care has had a hard time adopting social media while the patients of health care have gone ahead and created platforms to use on their own. It just goes to show you; when patients have needs, they’re going to get those needs met, whether they’re endorsed by health care professionals or not.)

A few thoughts on how hospitals and health systems can best help patients (like me! and you!) online:

  1. Make your site as easy to navigate as possible. And please don’t use Flash — those of us stuck in bed with an iPad will thank you.
  2. Make sure your search function works. This may mean getting rid of a lot of older PDF documents on your site that may not be searchable content.
  3. Include links to resources. I’m not sure you need to create all of the extra, beneficial platforms I found so useful, but linking to them in an easy to find place to benefit patients and their families would be oh, so kind and generous. These include . . .
  4. Links to or internally created blogs, message boards, Twitter chats and other two-way communication options for people with same symptoms or diagnoses to connect with one another for support.
  5. Provide a resource like http://www.takethemameal.com or just link to Take Them a Meal so patients have it as a resource. It’s become a common trend to coordinate meals for moms with new babies, but there are a host of other procedures that leave parents off their feet and struggling to maintain regular meals for their families.
  6. Make it easy for patients to activate their support networks with suggestions — maybe a checklist to help them quickly figure out the kind of help they might need, especially if they’re suddenly and unexpectedly taken out of commission (as I was).
  7. For people without a support network, (poor you!) links to resources for volunteer organizations that offer support and resources for the patient’s particular needs.

Since we’ve all been patients at one time or another, what have you looked for and found, or not found online from your health care provider? Is there anything you found elsewhere that you wished you could have found within your health system?