How the Stories of Our Lives Can Change Healthcare

If you’re interested in how to use stories to change your healthcare work, please watch this two-minute video before reading.

In my new favorite magazine, Fast Company, a Co.Create section article, The Heart of Storytelling… recently highlighted how the American Red Cross is using stories of those who have received their services to help share their message and provide information about the work they do. To the credit of both the Red Cross and their ad agency, BBDO New York, the two groups recognized that their original ad campaign using storytelling lacked authenticity and felt forced. So instead, they mailed video cameras to those who could tell the story first hand, and then edited the content to share the words of those who had lived these life-changing events, such as:

Maybe putting a camera, or tools like social media, blogs, email, or good old-fashioned pen and paper in the hands of more patients, allowing them to tell the world about authentic experiences of care will leave a greater impact on those providing care, as well as their peers and consumers of healthcare. We’ve been told by many expert storytellers to share stories that touch the heart to create the change we need. But how long do emotions need to stay charged in order to equal action? And what is it that finally flips the switch to act? Is it unwavering social support or is it that the “character” within the story moves us to action? The suspension of disbelief created in a movie theater is fleeting, and the change needed in healthcare is lasting and challenging. Do we need to be reminded of these patient stories over and over, or will we become desensitized over time?

In an April 2012 Social Science & Medicine article, Aspirin Use and Cardiovascular Events, Strully & Fowler et al showed again how social networks influence health behavior–specifically cardiovascular health in this study. Their research showed that the cardiovascular event of a same sex friend or family member–i.e. a woman’s female friend or a man’s brother–was shown to increase the likelihood that each would adopt aspirin therapy to prevent cardiovascular disease. Their research also considered the confounding factor that those who actually took aspirin might be influenced by the same well-meaning physician–however this turned out not to be the case. The story this data could be telling us is that health behavior is influenced more so by the story lines of the lives of friends and family than the prescriptions given by healthcare professionals for non-acute care. At least for me, this research implies my health behavior will change when one of my girlfriends has a stroke. This research also implies that maybe we don’t have to wait for someone “like us” to have a cardiovascular event before we change the story. Rather, perhaps health prevention of the future is creating a new story altogether and targeting influential people within a social network to make treatment, or positive health behavior, spread like good gossip or a bad virus.


The Power of Social Networks to Change Health Behavior

Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler, co-authors of Connected: How Your Friends’ Friends’ Friends Affect Everything You Think, Feel and Do, have been studying the power and influence of social networks for a large portion of their careers. The concept of ‘six degrees of separation’ took on a whole new meaning thanks to Kevin Bacon, but Christakis and Fowler turned this party game into a science and have shown through peer-reviewed research that social networks can also influence the health status and behavior of the group.

Using the Framingham Heart Study data set, Christakis and Fowler found health and related behavior reflects ‘three degrees of influence,’ meaning your health behavior can indeed be influenced by a friend of a friend. As Christakis puts it in the following TED talk, “If a friend says, ‘let’s go have muffins and beer,’ and you do…and more friends join you, a new norm of what an acceptable body type begins to look like within your social network spreads–literally and figuratively. See Christakis’ Ted Talk below:

Wired Magazine interviewed the researchers in a 2009 article, The Buddy System: How Medical Data Revealed Secret to Health and Happiness, and the New England Journal of Medicine published the duo’s work in 2007, in the journal’s first piece on social media in medicine, The Spread of Obesity in a Large Social Network Over 32 YearsWhile this may be old news, it is once again gaining momentum as thought leaders in healthcare become increasingly aware of the need to target disease interventions at populations versus individuals alone.

Healthcare as an industry is becoming more and more social media savvy, as the fear of the unknown is overcome by a little education and the knowledge that crowdsourcing almost anything can provide the needed push for a new idea or intervention to take hold. Social networks not only influence health, but are now also being used to find patients for clinical trials–often a rate limiting and time-consuming step to study completion (see Health Data Management, Putting Social Networks On Trial). PatientsLikeMe, out of Boston, MA and led by Jamie Heywood, has built an entire business model around bringing groups of patients together, in their own disease-based social networks in order to share what works and what doesn’t related to treatments, and life in general. The team collects meaningful data to move research forward faster, and now has the ability to match participants to clinical trials they may never have never considered because they were unaware a trial was even being conducted.

By tapping into your own social networks, health or otherwise, you can expand your reach and exposure to more and more information. Knowledge truly is power–it opens doors and provides options that may not have existed before a new discovery is made. But choose those social networks wisely–just like Mom, and now Christakis and Fowler have said–especially when it comes to making health decisions. You are not only what you eat, but what your friends eat!


Following #meded Twitter Stream to Medicine 2.0

While perusing the #meded Twitter feed last week, I was once again reminded how the young are educating all of us. Not only with the resolve they are leaving the shame and blame culture of medicine behind, but in their mastery of technology and social media–both avenues to the future of medicine. I followed a link found on the #meded stream to David Harlow’s post, Medicine 2.o Takes Harvard Medical School By Storm, which in turn took me right to the Medicine 2.0 Conference page and the wonderful list of speakers who were hard at work in Boston September 15-16 discussing new ways to disrupt medicine using social media, social networks, Web 2.0, mHealth and more.

Medicine 2.0 is a World Congress that began five years ago in Toronto bringing together those with the vision of where social medial, mobile health and Web 2.0 could take medicine to discuss and design peer-reviewed research in areas of need. The following video provides a brief introduction, and Gunther Eysenbach MD/MPH/FACMI from the Medicine 2.0 Advisory Committee and the Centre for Global eHealth Innovation, University Health Network, Canada gives an overview in his welcome to attendees (excerpt follows):

…the Medicine 2.0 congress…(and network) has grown tremendously…with now almost 500 attendees in Boston and over 3,000 members in the social network (medicine20.net)…This growth is of course testimony to the enormous and increasing importance of participatory, open, and collaborative approaches supported by emerging technologies in medicine – which is exactly the topic of Medicine 2.o…we not only talk about Web 2.0, but we actually apply its principles throughout the development of the conference…Our conference website doubles as a social networking site…and our peer-review processes are really peer-to-peer (and highly automated) rather than committee driven…

The lineup included:

  • A keynote from Jamie Heywood, CEO of PatientsLikeMe, an organization trying to move medical research into the next century by putting the patient at the center through data collection, collaboration and participation.
  • A keynote from John Brownstein, Harvard Medical School, who discussed capabilities and future directions of public health surveillance and detection of emerging infectious disease.
  • A keynote by Dave DeBronkhart (aka e-Patient Dave), who reviewed the status of personal health data and his own model of how information comes into existence and how people are pulled toward that information.

Additional sessions covered:

  1. Mobile and Tablet Health Apps: Looking at Evolving Use of Apps and Mobile Health Devices in Real-Time Clinical Setting; Mobile Devices, Communication and Care Coordination for Older Patients with Chronic Pain; Mobile Intervention for Depression
  2. Business Models for Web 2.0
  3. Web 2.0 Approaches for Clinical Practice, Research and Quality Monitoring: SMART Platforms: Creating the “App Store” for Health
  4. eCoaching: Evidence-Based Empathy Training Improves Patient Satisfaction
  5. Web 2.0 approach to behavior change, public health and biosurveillance: Smoking cessation via Social Media; Internet-Based Intervention for Kids of Divorce; Automated Tool for Addressing Lifestyle Changes During a Medical Encounter; Exploratory Study on Celebrity Health & Fitness Usage on Consumer Attitudes & Behavior
  6. Usability and human factors on the web: The Embedded Designer: The Next Big Step for Healthcare Systems
  7. And more…See their program for more details here

Needless to say, it was long overdue that I added the #meded stream to my Hootsuite dashboard. I look forward to being even further educated by the young! And if all these Twitter references sound foreign to you, Mediabistro.com offers some excellent introductory and advanced online courses on this excellent research, marketing and future disease surveillance tool.