Five myths preventing social media use in the NHS

Dean Royles

22 / 5 / 2013 2.11pm

I have always fancied myself as a myth slayer, so I thought it was about time I did a blog to try and slay some of the myths that surround social media use in Europe’s largest employer – the NHS.

1. We’d like to use it but it’s too risky. All those stories about staff posting inappropriate pictures. What if something is taken out of context on Twitter?

Sure, but what stories? There are millions of Facebook users and millions of people on Twitter. Twitter was seven years old last week. I can’t recall more than a handful of stories, and I can’t remember what they were about or where they were. The newspapers carry many more negative stories but we don’t disengage with the media because of them. We redouble our efforts to overcome. In the main, what I see on social media is staff engaging with the debates around compassion, the Francis inquiry, regulation, staffing levels, pay (unfortunately for me!) and it’s overwhelmingly positive and where there is criticism it is generally constructive and thoughtful (if at times uncomfortable). Twitter is a very forgiving media. All the advantages and the positives far outweigh the downsides, in my personal view, by at least 1000 to 1. Professional health bodies and regulators like the RCGP, GMC, NMC have produced guidance on the safe use of social media. Don’t let the minimal risks (albeit real) put you off the huge (and very real) benefits.

2. We don’t do social media. It’s not effective and our staff don’t have access to IT equipment

This intuitively makes sense. You only have to walk around a hospital to see that staff work shifts, they have lots of personal contact with patients and visitors, and most don’t have their own work PC. It’s even easier to understand the dilemma for staff that work out in the community visiting patients or running local clinics. But here’s the rub, loads of those staff do have smartphones, Ipads etc that they carry with them and PCs at home, many will have downloaded podcasts and the newspapers, so why not your newsletter? It’s estimated that two-thirds of the public have access to Facebook and there are millions of Twitter accounts. People are already using social media with family, friends and colleagues . And so are patient groups, trade unions, some trusts and a lot of staff - that why it’s social. Staff are not waiting for their work to provide facilities. They are engaging already and we miss an enormous opportunity if we don’t use it with them.

3. I haven’t got time to use social media and no one is interested in what I’m doing

This is a common misunderstanding of social media. Using social media is NOT about doing something additional, it’s about doing what you already do but better. When you look at it this way you see the great advantage is in listening rather than broadcasting. It’s a really effective way to find out views, opinions and mood. Many people on social media are fantastic resource investigators who edit and analyse topical issues and present it in an easy to read way. I find using Twitter and LinkedIn actually saves me time.

4. Our IT department have blocked access to the internet for personal use. They have concerns about security and confidentiality

Again at first glance you can understand the concern. Patient confidentiality is absolutely essential and so is protecting the personal details of staff. But surely the answer is to sort the security? If other Trusts and national organisations like NHS England allow staff on Twitter and Facebook and other social networks, surely the security issue is resolvable? Some argue that it would be a distraction for staff and they want to prevent internet abuse. Sure, put some rules in around usage or instigate ‘quota’ time, but blocking the internet won’t prevent a member of staff who wants to spend their work time doing other things. Blocking the internet won’t stop them bringing a magazine to work and finding a quiet corner. If this is the main worry, it’s not the internet and social media that’s the problem....

5. We’ve decided not to use it until we’ve seen some good return on investment (ROI) data

I’ve never seen a business case or a return on investment analysis for:

• Using telephones

• Newsletters

• Attending meetings

• Team briefs

• Exec team walk-abouts

We do them because we know it makes sense to use all the media and contact opportunities around to connect with and listen to staff. Social media is a different way of communicating and engaging. It’s not a new ‘thing’ to do but a new approach to a familiar challenge.

So if you haven’t already, dip your toe in, have a listen and see for yourself. It’s the future....!


Dean Royles slays five common social media myths that are preventing NHS organisations engaging with the medium and reaching staff. Listen here on Soundcloud.

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