Why should South African health care about standard hashtags?
If you know what Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is you will have heard the term analytics before. 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 networks 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 correctly is becoming crucial to refining this big data on most social media platforms because they help to filter topics by conversation thread and improve what we measure, therefore, making our online data more meaningful. Hashtags improve analytical agility which will be important to precision health. For several years now, the use of social media for healthcare (hcsm) has been discussed online between diverse stakeholders globally using various health-specific hashtags which are recorded by a company called Symplur, however, using the tools that social media platforms offer healthcare still remains a controversial topic in many countries that lag behind which includes South Africa.
Healthcare analytics is crucial to the redesign of new health systems because they contribute towards a deeper understanding of the issues being discussed online. Symplur’s reports are open to the public and provide a comprehensive list of influencers worldwide accessible in one, central place. This is especially useful to beginners who are learning to navigate the Twitter landscape for professional purposes.
Healthcare Social Media (hcsm) is defined as the art of using existing social media tools effectively to advance medicine and falls under the health 2.0 umbrella. In the past, our South African healthcare sector haven’t focussed much attention on developing the practice of hcsm because of various issues including healthcare providers time constraints, fear of legal and ethical implications, poor digital literacy skills, limited access to ICT’s and connectivity. These are all legitimate reasons that should be addressed on their unique levels to enable online participation for healthcare but given the current statistics of over 54% of the South African population actively using the internet in January 2018 (30.81 Million), we shouldn’t turn a blind eye to the opportunities we have to improve our system with these freely available digital technologies.
Three ways standard hashtags can benefit healthcare:
Improve networking and collaboration opportunities
Standard health hashtags help to connect users. When clicking on a hashtag, it redirects you to a stream of conversation grouped by that hashtag topic and its users. If stakeholders use hashtags for irrelevant keywords like #exciting they will be dispersed into meaningless threads. Give it a try, click on a health hashtag like #hcsm on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or Linkedin and see who you are able to connect to without putting in the effort of searching for them manually. Now click on #exciting and see what comes up for healthcare. It’s generally regarded as a good code of practice to visit the Symplur healthcare hashtag index first to choose relevant hashtags before sharing a post to ensure that you are dispersing information correctly.
Conference hashtags improve global visibility
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 chosen hashtag which increases visibility for marketing and educational purposes. This is especially beneficial when a delegate takes a photo of a presentation featuring groundbreaking research and tweets it out using the right hashtag so others can find it.
Hashtags create communities
Communities can be formed by using a hashtag like #BCSM (Breast Cancer Social Media). Disease hashtags like #cancer are used in the same way, however, carefully thought out acronyms may indicate that specific community is moderated, therefore that type of data will differ to the broader public hashtags which most users include for posts ranging from personal experiences to promoting a product or general spam. One example of this broad use includes using the hashtag #cancer to share medically relevant information or posts relating to it being an astrological star sign. Whilst the #cancer hashtag should be encouraged to use to disseminate information to the broader public on a massive scale, we should also be mindful that posts are not always health-specific when it comes to data collection and analysis. When hashtags are grouped as a collective they can be measured more effectively in clusters, therefore, the quality of that data matters. Information dissemination is also easier during a crisis like a disease outbreak when targetting a connected community. The best way to find existing health communities is to search the Symplur index, alternatively, you can register one on the platform if it’s not already listed.
Using social media effectively for healthcare is going to be a step in the right direction for both South African patients and providers. The web is evolving rapidly by the day and so are our digital citizens, unfortunately, that data on social media won’t serve its purpose as meaningfully if it remains unstructured. Working harmoniously will be key.
Vanessa Carter is an award-winning entrepreneur and was a creative director for 18 years. She is also a Stanford University Medicine X e-Patient Scholar for Antibiotic Resistance and Facial Difference Conditions. She is an advisor to various organisations including the South African Antibiotic Stewardship Program (SAASP) as well as co-chair of the Public Health Association of South Africa (PHASA) Health IT Special Interest Group. Read more here.