Despite a high penetration of internet access and extensive use of social media, the UAE is lacking in healthcare influencers who can help spread health-related information useful for the public.
Speakers at the first Middle East Healthcare Social Media Summit, which concluded in Dubai on Tuesday, urged healthcare professionals in the country to join the bandwagon of social media influencers for the benefit of the community.
The biggest risk in health care social media is not participating in the conversation, according to Dr. Farris Timimi, medical director of Mayo Clinic Social Media Network.
Speaking to Gulf News on the sidelines of the summit, Dr. Timimi said: “We are focusing on the moral obligations of healthcare professionals, the physicians, nurses and pharmacists, to join the conversation and share important information of value to improve preventive medicine opportunities.”
Citing some survey results that said residents of the UAE on an average spend about three hours on social media, he said healthcare providers can apply it as a clinically useful tool.
“The problem is that many people on the social media have their own agenda to provide misinformation and can guide patients in the wrong direction. There is a profound opportunity for the healthcare professionals for meaningful use of social media and guide the patients to the right direction.”
He pointed out that physicians can avoid repeating the same message several times a day by posting it on social media and sharing it with their patients and members of the community.
“It is not about practicing medicine online. It is about encouraging people to go for screening for early diagnoses and passing on useful health information especially for prevention etc.”
Digital content helps patients to access it at their convenience and enable them to go back to it when needed.
“Also it will be comprehensive, meticulous and clear content in an approved format,” said Dr. Timimi.
Another speaker Lee Aase, director of Mayo Clinic Social Media Network said social media plays an important role in overall communication and ever more so in crisis communication.
During a crisis, various information need to be communicated to various stakeholders and the public. It is very important [for the medial fraternity] to build the capacity by being engaged in social media before a crisis happens.
“Then you have a vehicle, the means and the relationship with your followers so that they are able to spread the appropriate word to the community.”
The power social media can be useful during any kind of crisis. In the case of healthcare, it would be more useful when dealing with an epidemic or mass casualty accident where people are interested in information about their loved ones and what is happening live.
“Physicians and others are held on high esteem in the community. If they have their own social media presence, then they can help to allay fears and perhaps communicate the official word coming from healthcare authorities also.”
Tools and training needed
The experts highlighted the need for giving the necessary tools and training to healthcare professionals to take up the larger role of healthcare influencers.
A one-day workshop was held prior to the summit to give hands-on training a large group of local professionals.
Participants at the summit, Asma Al Janahi and Abdulla Al Sharhan, who are part of the social media team of Dubai Health Authority, said the summit enlightened the local professionals.
“Some years ago, physicians were not believing in social media. They were happy with meeting the patients,” said Al Janahi.
She said now physicians in the GCC are using social media after seeing how it is impacting the public. “They are needed on social media because there is a lot of misinformation by influencers [from other sectors] and others. Health information is a huge risk if it is coming from professionals not from the same industry,” said Al Janahi.
Social media started a new era in communication where you have the chance to send your message, receive a feedback and again respond to it, said Al Sharhan.
The two-day summit organised by Mayo Clinic in collaboration with The Mohammed Bin Rashid University of Medicine and Health Sciences (MBRU) and American Hospital Dubai brought together healthcare providers and decision makers spanning various sectors to analyse the impact of social media on healthcare and chart the best way forward.