Event Recap: Public Health & Digital Innovation

TogoRun’s June 15th Digital Capital Week event “Public Health: What’s Digital Got to Do With It?” featured panelists Susannah Fox (@SusannahFox) of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, Maya Linson (@mlinson, @NAPH1981) of the National Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems, and Erin Enke of TogoRun (@TogoRun). A capacity crowd was in attendance at the Pew Research Center and another group following on Twitter sparked a vibrant online discussion of, among other things, how health institutions are using social media and how digital innovation is improving public health.

Susannah Fox, Pew Internet & American Life Project

Self-proclaimed “Internet geologist” Susannah Fox talked about the need for research on social media as a learning system, including whether a network effect can be proven. For example, while only 65 percent of people with chronic diseases have regular access to the Internet, those who do are more likely than non-chronic disease sufferers to engage in online information searches and participate in community forums where they can share information and support each other. To date, no confirmed evidence exists that “community as motivator” makes a difference in health, but Susannah did point to research showing that two-thirds of people who look for health information online have talked to someone else – mostly friends and family – about it.

As an example of social media being used for quick dissemination of time-sensitive information, Susannah cited the FDA and CDC’s use of blogs, SMS, podcasts, video and tweets to alert consumers – especially the powerful “mommy blogger” cohort – of Salmonella-tainted peanut butter last fall. In an example of harnessing peer-to-peer networks for health behavior change, Susannah cited #getupandmove, part of Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign to fight childhood obesity, which is used by Tweeters to challenge friends to random acts of fitness.

The audience was on the edge of their seats as Susannah described new research in the works designed to discover what happens when a person receives a life-changing diagnosis and uses the social media resources available to them – and where subsequent conversations happen both on and offline.

Susannah closed her remarks with the provocative question: “Health is social. Health is mobile. What are you spreading?” (Find another recap of Susannah’s presentation by blogger and Johns Hopkins health communications graduate student Erica Holt here.)

Maya Linson, National Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems

Presenter Maya Linson appeared on behalf of NAPH, which represents the nation’s safety net hospitals and health systems – those that care for patients regardless of ability to pay. She shared examples of NAPH members’ use of social media as a practical resource to enhance patient experience, handle emergencies and conduct community outreach and education. “Social media gives patients a voice,” said Maya, citing the example of one Ohio State University Medical Center employee (@OSUMC) who intercepted irritated Twitter posts from a patient unhappy with his long wait to see his physician. Just by responding and following up, the OSUMC employee’s actions turned the patient’s posts from negative to neutral to advocacy, when the patient went on to re-post the hospital’s public health alerts on Twitter. Other examples included UC San Diego Medical Center’s (@UCSDMedicalCtr) YouTube-based emergency preparedness training tools, which were both cost-effective and very popular, and Contra Costa Health Service’s (@CoCoHealth) social media campaign to share information with the public about the local supply of flu vaccinations.

Erin Enke, TogoRun

Our very own Erin Enke reminded the audience that social media can affect people’s health behaviors and even save lives, which she demonstrated through a TogoRun case study example of a disease awareness campaign for Hepatitis B in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Learn more here.

While the panelists discussed the value of social media, many in the audience, mostly representing government programs, nonprofits and members of the health community, were practicing it by engaging in a parallel discussion via Twitter using the hashtag #digitalhealth.

I would like to extend a huge thank you to our presenters, our esteemed moderator, Dr. Val Jones (@drval) and everyone who attended the event and participated in the discussion online. The conversation continues and we encourage you to join in.

Welcome & introductions    Susannah Fox           Maya Linson

Erin Enke part 1            Erin Enke part 2

Q&A part 1                  Q&A part 2