Saturday, August 18, 2012

Why social media will work in medicine: Storytelling


Michael Wilson says it best in his book Redirect: The surprising new science of psychological change. It's the stories that motivate behavioral change, not data, because true behavioral change requires an emotional hook that can only come from people we know or identify with.

Meeting our doctor, presented before us in a white uniform, ourselves undressed, in a sterile unadorned room, makes emotional connection difficult at best.

When patients are told to change the way they eat, to add thirty minutes of exercise to their lives daily, to take pills that, if nothing else, tell us they're sick, and to stop drinking and stop smoking, these recommendations are useless if there is no emotional hook, if there is no story.

Social media provides a story. If patients were linked by social media with both their care providers and similar patients, then the stories of why and how behavior change supports health can flow. With social media comes the emotional hook to live better through healthy behavior that struggles to survive in the aseptic office.

I can see the heads shaking in disapproval, that tools like Facebook and Twitter don't belong in medicine, that even if health information could be protected, it'd be a massive waste of time.

I humbly ask, how much time is wasted making negligible inroads into staggering issues like smoking cessation or obesity? How much time is wasted investing in chemotherapy and diabetes treatments rather than prevention? Might it not be worthwhile to at least try the storytelling capacity of social media?