Vanessa Carter (#hcsmSA)
Vanessa is an award-winning entrepreneur and was a creative director for 18 years. She is currently a professional ePatient activist (MRSA – Antibiotic Resistance and Facial Difference) from South Africa. She is an advisory board member for Doctors 2.0 and You, EyeforPharma, InfectionControl.Tips as well as The Walking Gallery of Healthcare by Regina Holliday. Read more here
Why are (#) hashtags important?
If you know about search engine optimisation (SEO), you will have heard the term analytics before. In a nutshell, according to Wikipedia, analytics are “the discovery, interpretation, and communication of meaningful patterns in data. Especially valuable in areas rich with recorded information, analytics relies on the simultaneous application of statistics, computer programming and operations research to quantify performance”.
Analytics are the statistics we extract from the data generated online. A good example of how analytics are used is when we track the demographics of visitors to a website, this enables us to measure our performance and improve. We also use analytics on social media where conversations take place globally. Analytics can help us to identify user behaviour, sentiment and trends among many other criteria.
We generate masses of data online daily which many people refer to as big data. Using hashtags are becoming crucial to refining this big data on most social media platforms because they help to filter topics by conversation thread and therefore improve what we measure making our online data more meaningful. Hashtags improve analytic agility which will be important to precision medicine. For several years now, the use of social media for healthcare (hcsm) has been discussed online between diverse stakeholders globally, mostly in TweetChats like #hcsm using various health-specific hashtags which are recorded by a company called Symplur. Using social media for healthcare still remains a controversial topic in many countries which includes South Africa.
Healthcare analytics are crucial to the redesign of new health systems because they provide us with a deeper understanding of the issues being discussed in real-time. Symplur’s reports are open to the public and provide a comprehensive list of influencers worldwide accessible in one place. Easy access to this type of curated information simplifies the process of connecting which is useful to beginners learning to navigate Twitter.
Figure 1: A screenshot of Symplur’s dashboard with influencers and a comprehensive list of registered health hashtags globally.
With the statistics of social media users in Africa, it makes sense that we begin to consider using hcsm. hcsm is the art of using existing social media for the tools it offers to advance medicine, sometimes known as health 2.0. In the past, the healthcare sector haven’t focussed attention on developing hcsm because of time constraints, ethical concerns, shortage of skills, funding or connectivity, there are many reasons. However, with the staggering statistics of emerging global diseases and a shortage of health resources, we need to reconsider our past methods of delivering care to a growing population. The effective use of the internet combined with high-quality analytical data provides an immense opportunity for us to redesign new health systems incorporating innovative ICT that works for everyone.
Precision medicine will need a robust analytical system, if we are going to utilise unstructured big data as it is on the web today, because we work in silos, we won’t meet our 2030 Sustainable Development Goals for health (SDG3). Education to empower users about the effective use of hcsm is going to be critical.
hcsmSA is one subsidiary community of hcsm. Below we share five ways that hashtags are utilised for healthcare communications:
1.Improve networking and collaboration
Hashtags connect users. When clicking on a hashtag, it redirects you to a stream of conversation grouped by topic as well as to its participants. This is a powerful way to grow your network because the topic and users are central to find. Network building is also improved through TweetChats because it offers the tools to bring users together virtually which make it cost-effective and enables participation both locally and globally. Physical events remain a necessity but can be costly and are unable to achieve the same level of global diversity and electronic data generated by frequent TweetChats.
- Conference hashtags
When using a hashtag for a medical conference it enables participants globally and locally to follow the conversations. Delegates are normally encouraged at the event to share tweets with the event’s named hashtag which increases visibility for marketing and educational purposes. When registering the hashtag on the Symplur conference database, thousands of registered users are also able to find your event by hashtag. Using a geographic hashtag like #hcsmGH #hcsmBDI or #hcsmSA combined with the event hashtag improves analytics even further because it makes it geographic.
- Community analytics
Communities can be formed by using a common hashtag. For example, when placing a hashtag in front of the word “Cancer” (i.e: #Cancer), we effectively highlight that as a keyword in a sentence to improve our ability to measure public sentiment for research and development. Collectives of users can also be measured more effectively and useful to disseminate education, especially from government.
- Improved Search
With the growth of the internet, it has become increasingly difficult to find reliable information on search engines. This has caused some chaos between doctors and patients. To make matters worse, it is not only patients that rely on these articles, but HCPs too. Social media has no additional concrete safety measure’s however, through niche health analytics platforms like Symplur and communities which are moderated by humans as opposed to robots, there is slightly more control.
- Access to global medical education
Social media has become a sphere where we follow the latest trends. hcsm is also specifically being used to follow and discuss emerging medical technology as well as economics, policy, diseases, clinical trials and more. There are other communities which have specifically been created to focus on certain topics, one of the most widely recognised is #MedEd. Discussions include how to integrate technology into academic education such as augmented reality, virtual reality, MOOCs, robotics, nanotechnology, quantified-self and other. TweetChats and hashtags are exceptional ways to enable the above academia, allowing real-time and asynchronous discussions and other connections that can help you improve your craft as an educator.
Help grow the South African hcsm geo-community by using the #hcsmSA hashtag in your E-health related tweets.