• Social media
  • Africa’s social media for health looks strong - unpacking the 3rd Global Survey on eHealth

    Africa is using social media for health. Insights are in Chapter 7 of the WHO and Global Observatory for eHealth (GOe) publication Report of the third global survey on eHealth Global diffusion of eHealth: Making universal health coverage achievable. WHO Global Survey 2015 is the data source.

    The main theme is that social media provides an important means to convey messages for health organisations and receiving and sharing information for individuals and communities. A downside is that there’s still plenty to do to understand how its potential can support Universal Health Coverage (UHC).

    Key findings include:

    1. Nearly 80% of countries say healthcare organisations use social media to promote health messages
    2. Nearly 80% say individuals and communities use it to learn about health issues
    3. In over 62%, individuals and communities use social media to run community health campaigns.

    While, as usual, Africa lags behind the global position, its social media use is relatively high. Health organisations using it to promote health messages as a part of health promotion campaigns is not too far below global rates. Individuals and communities using it to learn about health issues is close to global rates too. Other uses tail off.

    It reveals two goals for African countries; do more and find the best ways to use social media. eHNA finds, collects and posts on research and commentaries on social media. Some social media makes no difference to health, for some, it’s not clear what difference it makes, for others, it’s effective. All findings provide valuable lessons for Africa’s health systems’ endeavours to use social media for healthier Africans.

  • Much of social network’s health advice’s misleading

    Many people turn to social network’s for health advice. A review by The Independent of Facebook posts on health advice shows that “Misinformation published by conspiracy sites about serious health conditions is often shared more widely than evidence-based reports from reputable news organisations.”

    Facebook has added a flag for users to show news shared on the site’s disputed. It’s also working with organisations that check information posted as facts so it can identify fake claims.

    Of the 20 shared posts on Facebook in 2016 with “cancer” in the headline, over half rely on claims discredited by doctors and health authorities. The year’s top story on the topic was directly discredited by the source it cited.

    One of the fact checkers, Snopes, an Internet reference source for myths, rumours and misinformation, found the top five news articles with Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) in the headline were the three with most shares, likes and engagements. It said they were false.

    The findings reinforce the need for Africa’s health systems to show that their health advice on social media is reliable. It may also need a social media campaign to encourage people to turn to their authorised sites for health advice.


  • How quickly can Africa’s public health fill the social media space?

    Social media seems to dominate some people’s every waking minute. It may have a big role in some people’s sleep too. A report in the Journal of Public Health Policy, Social media, knowledge translation, and action on the social determinants of health and health equity: A survey of public health practices, sees this as “Opportunities for public health to increase its influence and impact on the social determinants of health and health equity.”

    It found that public health agencies use social media for knowledge translation, relationship building, and specific public health roles to advance health equity. Its penetration leaves plenty of room for expansion into activities such as navigating, creating and evaluating content to support action on Social Determinants of Health (SDH), health equity, enhance research evidence and mobilising knowledge, informing, educating, and empowering people about health issues, assessing public perception, increasing rapid access to public health messaging during emergencies and other times, mobilising community partnerships and action, and collecting surveillance data. There’s a wide range of uses to aim at.

    Facebook and Twitter are the main media channels identified by the survey. On a scale of daily, weekly, monthly, infrequently and never across several public health SDH and health equity activities, never had the highest score, between 32% and 44%. Infrequently was second, between 29% and 33%.

    These give a range of rates for regular social media use of between 14% and 38%. Expanding from this low base is an opportunity because about 75% respondents said online engagement afforded opportunities for networking and relationship building. Nearly 70% said it’s good for collaboration. Over half are motivated by the chance to share their work on SDH and health equity.

    The challenge’s converting the motivation into capacity utilisation. How quickly can Africa’s public health utilise social media’s spare capacity?

  • Six tips can make social media better for health

    As Africa’s healthcare presses on with its social media initiatives, it’s worth taking an opportunity to see what works best in other countries. Fierce Healthcare has six tips from Jenn Riggle, senior director of public relations for Compass Professional Health Services.

    1. Know your audience: a quick online survey or patient surveys can help to learn how patients want to be contacted, where they go for health information and what information they want, then help to customise communications programmes
    2. Make online portals the destinations: use them to share medical and educational information, receive test results, provide links to useful groups and websites and post customer success stories if patients have agreed formally to publication, otherwise it’s anonymous without identifiable information
    3. The medium’s the message: use appropriate channels to reach different audiences, always using user-friendly language and information customised for each medium, because one size doesn’t fit all
    4. A picture’s worth a thousand words: images help to bring social media posts to life, make posts stand out on a Twitter feed and make blog posts look more inviting, especially if they’re high quality images, so don’t  pull images from articles on the Internet
    5. Make the most of email: many groups prefer email as a communications medium, and stick to good protocols, such as:
    • Only use work email, not personal accounts
    • Make sure email is secure and use only an encrypted electronic messaging system
    • Don’t include patients’ name or personal health information (PHI) in the subject line
    • Take extra care with sensitive test results, such as knowing pertinent laws  and regulations
    • Document patients’ medical records: electronic messages that contain ePHI must be stored in securely and entered in patients’ medical records
    1. Texting may not be pretty, but it’s effective and secure messaging apps are available for extra security and privacy.

    These can help Africa’s health services build a better relationship with their communities. Perhaps more importantly, they can help increase patients’ satisfaction too.

  • Social media has a key role in healthcare

    Social media has impacted and changed our lives forever. It’s changed the way we do business and how we make choices. The healthcare industry has not been left out in this digital world. We are bombarded by health-related information on Facebook, twitter and other social networks.

    The impact this has had on healthcare is immense.  Recent studies show there are over 1.5 million active users of Facebook all over the world. A study done by mediabistro, a US based organisation, revealed that over 40% of patients agree that information found through social media affect the way they make decisions regarding their health says an article in allAfrica.

    African countries are no different with millions of people using social media daily. But what impact does this have on healthcare, or your personal health. Do you make healthier choices because of health campaigns you are confronted with on social media platforms?

    There are several health related Facebook pages established by doctors and many health experts who are actively taking advantage of social media to offer health education and advice. Some studies have shown that over 60% of social medial users have strong faith in social media posts made by doctors and health experts compared to other groups. Good examples of social media hashtag campaigns like #cigarrettesmokingkills and #letsfightcervicalcancer show that  social media campaigns can increase community awareness on important health topics.

    Health facilities are also taking advantage of social media in strengthening their operations, thereby increasing commitment towards quality healthcare delivery. Hospitals are increasingly using social media platforms like Facebook and twitter to acquire a competitive market position. Social media’s used by hospitals as a platform to increase awareness on the availability of medical services, cost of services or any issue the facility wants to share.

    Hospital managers use social media for feedbacks from patients and clients. Patients can rate services and present their complaints directly, and managers often use these  to adjust plans to increase healthcare quality.

    Professional networking supports relationships between health experts. They can share information, research findings and even cases. Two-thirds of doctors are estimated to use social media for professional purposes. The togetherness brought by social media is helping improve the health system’s quality. Africa will keep benefiting.

    Despite all the positive aspects that social media brings to the healthcare sector, there are intrinsic risks too. There is a greater possibility of breach of patient's privacy.

    There are documented cases where healthcare providers deliberately or unknowingly shared clients' information on social media. People are using social media to self diagnose which often leads to self-medication of drugs, which can be devastating if life threatening symptoms are self diagnosed incorrectly or identified as something harmless.

    There is also a plethora of misleading health information circulating on social media. It is therefore recommended not to rely solely on health information you find via social media and rather seek a professional advice from a medical practitioner.

    There is no denying that social media has forever changed how we interact with the healthcare system. Whats important is that we acknowledge the role healthcare professionals play and know they remain vital in keeping people healthy.

  • Do you speak Afro Emoji?

    Emoji’s have become ubiquitous. They’re fun, non-essential characters that add personality to our short text messages; a smile to ensure a clipped phrase isn’t misinterpreted as overly stern, or a naughty wink to ensure a loved one doesn’t miss a flirty innuendo. They’ve brought a human dynamic to short strings of text that otherwise struggle to portray what’s needed in a short rush of thumb-typed text.

    I’m sure you’ve also noticed that they have had a predominantly European character, often not quite right to express something more African. Until recently that is. Now they’ve been translated, if that’s the right word, into a distinctly Afro-dialect.

    "Abeg no vex. E make brain" might some confused, but for many it’s a statement that fills hearts with smiles. Translated: “Please, don't be annoyed. It makes sense.” There are now Emoji’s that express these phrases for us.

    "Africans bring noise and exuberance and a saying to practically everything we do," Afro Emoji team leader Ayoola Daramola told CNN. The interview was captured in this piece. The Afro Emoji app features African characters and phrases that are used everyday on the continent. It lets us express our African selves via a variety of messaging apps. It’s free for on Android and iOS.

    "There are so many cultural nuances and mannerisms from across the continent,” adds Daramola, “what we're looking to do with Afro Emoji is portray them in pictorial form and package them in a way that millions can use and share."

    As eHealth initiatives explore how to be locally relevant, perhaps there’s an Emoji to help us communicate better health messages. Find yours today from the expanding family of Afro Emoji characters. If you’re not sure where to start, "My Oga at the top" (My boss at the top) never did any harm; or perhaps you’ve already found a better one and you're sending it now.

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    Images from instagram.com

  • HealthTap's now available to Facebook users

    Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently announced that Messenger was the fastest-growing app in the US in 2015. Facebook has worked hard to make Messenger an indispensable digital one-stop-shop, and now, it provides a way to ask health questions0.

    You can now send a Facebook message to HealthTap, a telemedicine start-up, for answers to your healthcare questions. Users can elect either to receive instant answers to similar questions in HealthTap’s online database, or an answer from one of 100,000 physicians in HealthTap’s network. Users can expect answers within minutes, with all questions answered in under 24 hours, says an article in BuzzFeedNews

    While Google and Apple have invested in wellness and medical projects, this is Facebook’s first attempt to link with health services. “We want to make sure we’re there for people when it’s convenient for them,” says HealthTap CEO Ron Gutman. “You don’t need to open (another) app or go to a website. It’s like having a discussion with your mom. You ask a question to a doctor and get an answer back.” 

    The service is intended to be educational. It’s not a replacement for visiting a doctor. Questions like “Can I drink alcohol while taking ibuprofen?” and “Is it OK to eat ___ if I’m diabetic?” are well-suited to Messenger, says Gutman. This Q&A service is free on HealthTap’s app. Doctors are compensated by HealthTap in non-monetary ways, like continuing medical education credits. 

    Iff you want to know why you have a fever and dizziness, a prescription for that ailment, a referral to a specialist, or to see and hear a doctor, you’d need to turn away from Messenger and sign up for HealthTap’s premium service, It lets you video chat with doctors for US$99 a month.

    Given more than a billion Facebook users log on daily, HealthTap doctors may be overwhelmed with requests. But Gutman’s confident that most questions can be handled by the four billion existing medical answers already in HealthTap’s library. All material has been vetted by doctors and is automatically searched and sent to users by an artificial intelligence-powered bot. So far, the bot hasn’t shown any symptoms.

  • How can you know your social media audience?

    As social media takes on a bigger role in health and healthcare, good strategies become increasingly important. The audience is the focus of a social media strategy and its subsequent campaigns.

    Simply Measured has produced The Complete Guide to Audience Analysis on Social Media to help. Health and healthcare organisations can use it to improve their links with followers if they:

    • Identify and segment audiences
    • Analyse audience segments’ behaviours
    • Align a social media audience with marketing and health initiatives.

    The first step is clarity on who organisations want to reach, build awareness with and support. Then, establish if they’re already reached. This knowledge will help to develop a weekly, quarterly and annual road map. Rather than deal with a whole audience, it’s better to deal with significant segments.

    The numerous ways that people choose to define themselves on their social media profiles reveals much about what their core interests, skills and sometimes demographics are. You can collect and use this data to find out about your social audiences using an Excel spreadsheet, so it’s not a complex analytics project. Categories include interests, roles, gender, geography, industries and jobs.

    The next step is to drill into an organisation’s followers’ social media posts and find out how often and in what way they talk about it and its activities. This starts with the numbers of positive and negative mentions posted and a sub-analysis of key words they use.

    Finally, match these analyses to the desired audience to see whose missing. This whole data set provides the knowledge for your social media strategy. African countries could consider running this process for every health initiative they pursue that includes a social media component. It might help to remove some of the inbuilt randomness that social media campaigns seem to have.

  • Social media has many success criteria

    Many people take social media as indispensable. Some people loathe it as a social scourge. For both types, social media has taken over the daily routine of life, and it’s come a long way since its origin that traces back to the Bulletin Board Systems (BBS).

    BBS Corner has a perspective going back as far as the late 1970s. It says that Ward Christensen was the co-founder of the first public dial-up BBS, the Computerised Bulletin Board System, (CBBS) with Randy Suess. It seems that Christensen was snowed in during Illinois’ Great Blizzard of 1978. From his home in Chicago, Christensen linked up with Suess and started work on the CBBS. It went online on 16 February 1978. It had the BBS’ basic components of:

    • A computer
    • One or more modems
    • One or more phone lines
    • A BBS software package
    • A System Operator (Sysop)
    • A user community.

    Social media’s exploded since then, and shows no sign of slowing down yet. Just because social media’s mushrooming doesn’t mean that organisations like healthcare can be unstructured and in the dark about the ways they use it. They need explicit and clear strategies to use it well.

    study in England’s NHS by JB McRea, a PR and communications advisor, sets out three essential requirements:

    • Integrating social media with strategic objectives, core business processes and operations
    • Engagement, support and involvement of the boardroom, frontline staff, patients, their families and other stakeholders that delivers tangible results and value to all of them
    • Focus for social media footprints, activities and content to reach key people and organisations most relevant to them.

    The study found that NHS is at a low level of social media maturity. The maturity profile’s long, complex and important:

    • Using social media beyond broadcasting activities
    • Understanding the potential of mobile channels
    • Understanding the intellectual and social capital
    • Extent pf content reviews
    • Engagement of boards
    • Engagement of the wider organisation
    • Involvement in other organisations’ channels and communities
    • Understanding of stakeholders’ views
    • Breadth of social media channels utilisation
    • Range of content formats across social media
    • Reusing existing material in social media channels
    • Co-creating content across social media
    • Mainstream leaders embracing social media
    • Social media integrated with improvement, listening and engagement
    • Consciously and actively planning social media
    • Social media aligned with organisations’ strategic objectives
    • Understanding customer and service users
    • Social media performance management
    • Understanding and developing social media roles and skills
    • Active contribution of social media to service improvement.

    The NHS was judged as not yet mature in its use of social media. With a list of performance measures this long, it could apply to all of us. JB McRea’s report sets out a way ahead for African countries healthcare too.

  • Social media and Big Data help to develop HIV services

    Social media as a source for Big Data can provide valuable insights about people’s behaviours and their likelihood of engaging in high-risk activities that can lead to contracting HIV. This is a conclusion of Sean D. Young from the Center for Digital Behavior, Department of Family Medicine, University of California (UCLA) in his post in Trends in Microbiology.

    He sets out how social media data can contribute to Big Data science and current approaches to using social media to monitor and predict health behaviours and disease outbreaks. From these, he recommends tools and approaches needed.

    He sees Big Data as a combination of relational and structured data, such as medical and genetics datasets and unstructured such as publically available free text from social media conversations. Some of the conversations contain large volumes of personal information, and it’s feasible to analyse these to collect a range of psychological information about attitudes and behaviours affecting health. Some of the data shows that people who discussed HIV-prevention on social media are more likely to ask for an HIV test. The data can provide part of a forecast healthcare demand and feed into epidemiological studies that monitor risk behaviours and predict disease outbreaks and progressions.

    Using social media for Big Data is not just an analytical activity. It needs:

    • A multi-disciplinary team and approach
    • Availability of large and frequently updated datasets
    • An understanding of its limitations, such as data validity levels, missing data, observational data and samples’ representativeness.

    These offer a good model for African countries to adopt for their initiatives. It may be worth adding that it’s advantageous to start small with Big Data.