mHealth Congress: Social media, games provide digital fireplace for health community

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BOSTON—To tap into the potential of social media for advancing health, providers and developers need to go where the people are and must change their thinking to a person-centered model of engagement. This was the message of the July 26 closing keynote panel at the 4 th Annual mHealth World Congress.

“The mobile devices that we are carrying…are the digital fireplace, and they’re a way to bring social and community together if we do it intelligently,” said healthcare author, entrepreneur and ‘eFuturist’ Douglas Goldstein, who moderated the panel. Underscoring Goldstein’s point, the panelists shared anecdotes on how their organizations were using social media to engage both patients and providers.

The social media connection

When professional baseball player Jayson Werth suffered a ulnotriquetral ligament split tear in 2005, doctors were at first unable to successfully diagnose and relieve pain from the injury, according to Farris Timimi, MD, of the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in Rochester, Minn. Werth was eventually treated at the Mayo Clinic, and the organization used the high profile patient to garner publicity and spread information about the condition online and through YouTube videos. Mayo also hosted a Twitter chat session about the condition, through which Erin Turner, a woman who was suffering from an ulnotriquetral ligament split tear, became educated on her condition and was able to have it corrected.

Timimi shared an excerpt from a blog post written by Turner, in which she wrote she now has the potential for a future without chronic pain “that without Twitter and those in the medical community willing to experiment with new communications tools, might not exist for me.”

Similarly, two women who had a rare condition called spontaneous coronary artery dissection were able to find each other through a social networking site, said Timimi. They approached Mayo Clinic cardiologists about recruiting other women for a pilot study into the condition and, using that same networking site, they were able to recruit 18 volunteers for the study within one week.

Engagement is the name of the game

In addition to social media, the panelists also explained how games in healthcare can increase engagement. Nazli Ghamarifard, MPH, senior wellness program manager at Blue Shield of California, said a digital wellness game among employees that featured daily challenges and awarded points for healthy behaviors is resulting in improved outcomes. Since beginning the program in 2008, the percentage of employees who exercised regularly increased from 42 to 56 percent, hypertension rates fell from 29 to 10 percent and smoking rates were cut in half.

Lisa Shieh, MD, of Stanford University Medical Center, demonstrated how a game developed by her organization was used to help educate doctors on how to treat sepsis. The game, titled “Septris,” allows players to manage patients who may be suffering from the potentially fatal condition. Players can order lab or imaging tests, and receive corrective tips should they make an error. The game resulted in improved self-assessment and knowledge of sepsis among medical students and residents, and to date has been played 24,000 times online.

You can play Stanford’s “Septris” game, which also provides the opportunity for CME credit, by clicking here.