Social Media and Healthcare Professionals – a new way of communicating?

Daring to utter the words ‘social media’ amongst a group of healthcare professionals can often prompt the same response as the infamous ‘q’ word*. Whilst pained sighs, words of concern or even just uncomfortable silences might be how we respond, are we turning our backs on possible answers to the known failures in communication across healthcare globally?

Studies have shown that patients are turning to social media for advice and information about health [1-4]. Despite this, there are few healthcare professionals involved within social media, and even less research into the area. The impact that this has is broadly unknown, but it does beg the question – if people are turning to social media for health advice, who is providing the information if it’s not healthcare professionals?

As a midwife, a key element of my role is public health promotion. Within the UK, information for pregnant women is usually given through leaflets, word of mouth or group classes. Considering how similarly healthcare professionals communicated with patients half a century ago, it doesn’t feel as though our profession has kept up with the rapidly developing society around us. There is evidence that women turn to social media for advice and guidance during pregnancy [1], so healthcare professionals clearly need to catch up.

Social media is not a routine element of the role of a midwife or in fact most healthcare professions, and research actually shows that we are fearful and uncertain of how to use it [5]. There’s no denying that there will be obstacles around its use, such as professional accountability, representation at hospital or national level and regulation, however it seems to me that these aren’t reasonable excuses anymore – patients are using social media to seek information, and it is our duty to provide it.

My research is exploring the use of social media within maternity services and how to support midwives to engaged confidently and competently. Supervised by Prof Vanora A Hundley and Prof Ann Luce at Bournemouth University, my first project was to undertake a scoping review exploring nurses’ and midwives’ views of using social media within their role as part of a Wellbeing of Women Entry Level Scholarship for Midwives. Finding limited research, next I explored how birth is portrayed on the social media platform Instagram in order to map current usage. My study considered practice in four countries (USA, UK, Australia and New Zealand), but I am particularly interested in how we could support midwives in the UK. To achieve this, I have now started an NIHR ICA Programme Pre-doctoral Clinical and Practitioner Academic Fellowship (PCAF) with the aim of exploring social media usage across the broader maternity services. Armed with this information, my long-term goal is to make a training programme for midwives that will facilitate improved communication with women.  This could in turn be used to support similar programmes for other healthcare professions.

So, what about you – how do you use social media? Could you be using it more within your professional role? Ever thought about how your use of social media right now could be influencing those within your care? Whether you like, follow or decline social media, we just can’t ignore it any longer.

*Quiet! A word that, legend has it, prompts immediate busyness when said out loud in a clinical setting.

  1. Baker, B. and I. Yang, Social media as social support in pregnancy and the postpartum. Sex Reprod Healthc, 2018. 17: p. 31-34.
  2. Ahmed, Y.A., et al., Social media for knowledge-sharing: A systematic literature review. Telematics and Informatics, 2019. 37: p. 72-112.
  3. Chen, J. and Y. Wang, Social Media Use for Health Purposes: Systematic Review. J Med Internet Res, 2021. 23(5): p. e17917.
  4. Smailhodzic, E., A. Boonstra, and D.J. Langley, Social media enabled interactions in healthcare: Towards a taxonomy. Social Science & Medicine, 2021. 291: p. 114469.
  5. Hundley, V.A., et al., Changing the narrative around childbirth: whose responsibility is it? Evidence Based Midwifery, 2019. 17(2): p. 47-52.


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