Are you a social networker? Scroll to the bottom of this page to share your tips with other readers. We'll publish the best ideas.
Social networking can help you learn plenty about all aspects of your health care, from prevention, through symptoms and diagnosis, treatment options and disease management.
Social networking is exactly what it sounds like: conversations with others on a casual or social basis. Offline (not on the web) it would be like having lunch with a group of friends, chatting in the coffee shop or even going to a party. Online, through the web, it's a way of carrying on conversations with people you know and people you don't know, but with whom you have mutual interests.
Whereas blogs, wikis and websites are one-way communications (they all talk TO you), social networking sites are for sharing in all directions.
If you've ever chatted through an instant message or participated in a forum or support board (like the one here at patient empowerment or at any of the About.com health websites), then you have already participated in social networking, perhaps without realizing it.
Now there are dozens of social networking websites, built simply to help people carry on conversations with each other. You've probably heard some of their names, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Plaxo, LinkedIn and many others.
How can a patient or caregiver use social networking sites to her benefit? Can you socially network your way to better health care? The answer may be yes, with a few cautions.
The key is to network with people you can learn from, as well as having them also learn from you. If you approach your participation in social networking as a way to get the health information you need, then you should be able to accomplish that.
Here are some social networking DOs, regarding health information:
- DO give yourself enough time to learn the ropes. Each site is structured differently, so it will take you awhile to become comfortable.
- DO set goals before you start. It's easy to get carried away with the social part (lots of fun!), but it's more beneficial to you if you focus on what it is you want to learn. For example, if you are a diabetes patient, you will want to search out others who are either patients or professionals who deal with diabetes. It will be much more fun to seek out people who love cats like you do or who are interested in knitting or football. You may want to consider setting up separate identities for your different interests -- just to help keep you focused on what it is you are trying to accomplish.
- DO spend time seeking out those who can help you. Each of the social networking sites will have searches available, so you can use keywords to find others with shared interests. I use terms, such as patient advocate and patient empowerment to find the folks I want to connect with. You can use terms, such as your symptoms (back pain sufferers) or your diagnosis (heart disease) or even your treatment (physical therapist).
- DO contribute to the conversations. If you just "lurk" (reading, but not contributing), then you won't really be a participant. You can ask questions, share new information and links or share good news or bad news. You'll be more readily embraced by the community of people who share your interests when you participate.
- DO have fun with it! It doesn't have to be all serious.
Here are some social networking DON'Ts, regarding health information:
- DON'T try more than one or two social networking sites at first. If you try to get involved in too many, you won't be able to keep up or keep track. The stress will be more distracting than whatever you are trying to learn about!
- DON'T give away too much personal information. Use your name if you want, but better to use a first name and last initial or even a name that represents you ("healthnut" or "germophobe.") You've heard stories in the news about people who have shared too much information online and later were injured or somehow had their identity or privacy violated.
One caution: If you choose to participate in one of the patient communities set up specifically to be more personal, you may be required to waive anonymity. Some of these social, but specific sites require you to share medical records, even your DNA. Be sure you understand the pros and cons of participating in these sorts of patient communities before you take the plunge.
- DON'T believe everything someone tells you. Unless you can verify the information elsewhere, take it as opinion and not fact that someone is sharing. For instance, if someone tells you they have read about the new cure for the common cold, ask them for a link, then follow the rules for verifying credible Internet information before you believe or act on what they have to say.
I participate in a few social networking sites and am interested in learning more about how you use them too. I invite you to share your experiences and best practices for using social networking to improve your health. Share social networking sites, hints, warnings, good outcomes or any information you feel would help others. The best ideas will get posted here.
In the meantime, please follow, friend or link to me on the following:
- Twitter: @TrishaTorrey (If you don't know much about Twitter, I've put together some instructions to get you started on Twitter. I've also created a list of About.com health guides to follow.)
- LinkedIn: www.LinkedIn.com/in/TrishaTorrey (LinkedIn is more about business connections than personal connections.)
- Facebook: Trisha Torrey