Social media and quality improvement: natural bed fellows

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Dr Olwen Williams, clinical lead for the Future Hospital development site project at Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board elaborates on her experiences collaborating with an online community of healthcare professionals, how social media can be used in the context of quality improvement and where to start.

You have an amazing idea – it’s going to revolutionise patient care and you want the world to know about it. But hang on, someone else might already have a similar idea; someone might have an even better idea. So where do you turn?

Historically, clinicians have been very cautious of the use of social media for a variety of reasons – breaches of confidentiality, blurring of boundaries and anonymity – however the General Medical Council (2013) guidance gives clear recommendations to ease concerns. As a platform for sharing, social media is a fantastic tool. For example, the Royal College of Physicians’ (RCP) Future Hospital Partners Network, the community of people interested in putting the Future Hospital model and principles into action, is using #FutureHospital on Twitter to promote examples of innovative practice in the NHS gathered through the ‘Tell us your story’ initiative.

A collaborative approach to knowledge development

Clinicians have adopted social media mainly for educational purposes. Roland (2015) extolled the virtues of social media to help both clinicians and patients via ‘Free open access meducation’ (FOAM) and #FOAMed. Bullock (2014) stated that ‘social media (wikis, blogs, You Tube) heralds a more participatory and collaborative approach to knowledge development’. For me, what is really exciting is the explosion in use for sharing of good practice and quality improvement (QI), and setting up collaborations and networks – not just in the UK but worldwide.

An open conversation

What social media also ensures is patient participation in a way never seen before – through Twitter chats which are open to all. A great example is the @WeDocs Tweetchat ‘Patients as Partners’ last year which explored co-production and was co-hosted by two patient leaders. The #hellomynameis campaign, founded by doctor and patient Dr Kate Granger, is an exemplar in QI using social media to remind healthcare workers of the importance of introducing themselves to patients and enabling person-centred, compassionate care.

Social media and quality improvement

I lead Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board Future Hospital development site project CARTREF (CARe delivered with Telemedicine to support Rural Elderly and Frail) which focuses on delivering virtual outpatient consultations via virtual consultations. A brave move some might say! However, by asking questions on Twitter, I was inspired by the other people I found who had successfully implemented similar services. Following analysis of our project I was able to use social media again to disseminate our findings more widely. I got involved in transatlantic conversations via video conferencing about how the elderly were more than happy with telemedicine, encouraging others in the art of the possible. 

Social media breaks down barriers. It opens up huge possibilities for co-creating, developing and learning from each other.

Where to start

There are several sites committed to sharing innovation – The Academy of Fabulous NHS Stuff shares on Twitter (via @fabnhsstuff) and holds a directory of work carried out in a variety of settings. The #Wecommunities a multi-agency online ‘family’ are very proactive in connecting people and sharing information. The @WeDocs team organises monthly Tweetchats (live conversations via Twitter) on subjects related to ‘change management’.

Visit The Edge, (@theedgenhs) for NHS England QI. NHS Wales (@1000LivesWales) and NHS Scotland QI HUB (@NHS_QIHub) also feature a wealth of tools and guides on QI.

Social media: educate and entertain

Social media breaks down barriers. It opens up huge possibilities for co-creating, developing and learning from each other. The ability to explore outside the domain of medicine and get ideas from the digital technology fraternity, industry and the arts to name a few is very exciting. But be mindful; there is ‘bad’ and ‘fab’ stuff out there.

My reflections have come to the conclusion that social media is an incredible powerful tool that, when used appropriately, promotes positive leadership models, inspires, influences, educates and entertains. I will continue to proactively use and explore other emerging platforms and encourage you to join in the Future Hospital Partners Network by emailing futurehospital@rcplondon.ac.uk