Recently I received an advertisement from AT&T Insider that showcased its new electronic tablets. One of AT&T’s eight customers from all walks of life was a 95-year-old grandma, Rose Pietruskia, who uses a tablet to Skype with family, communicate on Facebook, send emails, and play games. The author (who also happens to be a granddaughter of Rose ☺) quotes Rose, “I could use it all day but I’d better not – I wouldn’t be able to get up and exercise!”
The theme of this Vision issue is “Spiritual care meets social media and technology.” I suspect for many of you, especially the Baby Boomers (1946-1964), Silent Generation (1925-1945), and the GI Generation (1901-1924), who comprise nearly two-thirds of our members, this topic is a challenging one. However, it is a vital topic for the future of chaplaincy. I hope that, like Rose, we embrace the challenge to learn about its potential, even discover how a patient and his/her family might already use it and incorporate it into our care plan if needed.
This issue includes a recent “From the Editor” column from the PlainViews issue of Aug. 7, 2013, Vol. 10, No. 14, (The-Rise-in-Social-Media-About-End-of-Life-and-its-Impact-on-Chaplaincy-Knowledge-and-Practice.aspx). In it Sue Wintz, MDiv, BCC, writes about “The Rise in Social Media About End-of-Life and its Impact on Chaplaincy Knowledge and Practice.” In Sue’s usual insightful and challenging way, she reflects on chaplaincy practice in light of social media. Reflecting on the live tweets by NPR’s Scott Simon as he sat by his dying mother’s hospital bed in Chicago, Sue notes how “their interactions, his thoughts and feelings, and ultimately her death all in 140 character snippets,… provided a glimpse into his very personal grief process in a very public way.” She also gives us links to helpful articles in
Forbes and e-hospice.
This topic overall highlights an important point: all this social exposure to the usually private and mysterious experience of dying and death provides a larger audience, even society as a whole, the privileged opportunity to witness and reflect on what we all will experience. However, the important questions for ourselves in the chaplaincy profession are: How familiar are we or will we be with social media? How will we embrace and utilize these media ourselves? Will part of our spiritual assessment with patients and families include inquiring about how social media is part of their lives now? For many, use of the social media tool, CaringBridge, has been a positive community-building effort that links friends and relatives far and near during times of distress.
A very recent study published in April 2013, in The Journal of Medical Internet Research entitled, “A New Dimension of Health Care: Systematic Review of the Uses, Benefits, and Limitations of Social Media for Health Communication,”
(www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3636326/) provides us a glimpse into the pioneering nature of social media in healthcare. This research article scanned peer-reviewed, published research in this field with the following aims: 1) to identify what was studied and written about social media’s usage, benefits, and limitations as employed within health communication among patients, health professionals, and the general public, and 2) to find the gaps in the literature and provide recommendations for the field. The abstract of this research stated that seven main uses of social media for health communication were identified, including focusing on increasing interactions with others, and facilitating, sharing, and obtaining health messages. The six key overarching benefits were identified as (1) increased interactions with others, (2) more available, shared, and tailored information, (3) increased accessibility and widening access to health information, (4) peer/social/emotional support, (5) public health surveillance, and (6) potential to influence health policy. Twelve limitations were identified, primarily consisting of quality concerns and lack of reliability, confidentiality, and privacy.
The study’s conclusions were not surprising as they note that social media offers a “new dimension” to healthcare, bringing a “powerful tool” that could make possible greater communication and social interaction and collaboration around health issue among users with “the possibility of potentially improving health outcomes.” Along with benefits, the study cautions that “the information exchanged needs to be monitored for quality and reliability, and the users’ confidentiality and privacy need to be maintained.” The study goes on to recommend several improvements to research studies.
I note this research to highlight the newness of the use of social media. As chaplains and spiritual care professionals we, too, can be part of the pioneering efforts to discover the benefits of social media for our patients, families, and staff. I believe this can give us the courage and impetus to be partners with other professionals in the field. We can share with one another what we are doing and learning.
David A. Lichter