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How can physicians use social media to amplify their voice in health advocacy?

The role of traditional media and in health advocacy is fairly well understood.  This discussion paper from Alberta Health Services provides a good overview.   And while there have been many successful advocacy campaigns leveraging social media (here is a random example), I’d guess that we haven’t yet seen the full impact in the Canadian health sector.

I’ve had the pleasure of presenting with Dr. Niraj Mistry on the impact of social media on healthcare.  And he tuned me in to a great Canadian example, described in this Healthy Debate article, where social media was used to galvanize public opinion and influence the funding of trials of a controversial MS treatment. (For the latest on this controversy, check out this recent Ottawa Citizen article.)

In the MS example, it was members of the “public” joining their voices via social media to influence change.

Recently, physicians in urban centers joining in protest against proposed cuts in health coverage to refugees.   Many physicians have already been joining the discussion on twitter using the #refugeehealth hashtag. More than 8,500 people have already signed this on-line petition.  And they have a national Day of Action planned for June 18th. 

How can physicians further use social media to amplify their voice in this advocacy issue?

Next Wednesday, May 30th, at 9 pm ET this topic will be discussed and brainstormed on the #hcsmca tweetchat. Physicians, and other interested workers in the healthcare sector, can join together to brainstorm the topic, share ideas and concerns.

If you are interested, but have never joined a tweetchat before, here are some basic instructions:

  • Sign up for a Twitter account in advance of the Tweetchat. (If you don’t want to become a regular Twitter user, you could delete your account after you are done the chat).
  • Go to (a tweetstream management tool)
  • “Sign in” to your Twitter account using the button on the topic right.
  • Put “hcsmca” beside the #, and hit “Go”.   This will bring up a tweetstream of tweets with the #hcsmca hashtag.
  • Tweetchats start with a quick introduction, and then the topic is announced.  Everyone is welcome to ask questions, answer questions, share ideas and links.

In the interim…how can physicians (or other health care workers) use social media in health advocacy? Any case studies, tips or best practices?



My new (fiscal) year’s resolution

Hello Dear SMiCH,

My new (fiscal) year’s resolution is to not neglect you so!  I miss you dearly.   #hcsmca, I miss you too.


Safe Sex 3.0: YWCA Safety Siren & Changing Sexual Discourse

A few weeks ago I participated in a great #hcsmca chat about mobile apps.

Like everyone else and their dog, I’ve sat daydreaming about mobile apps and all the cool things we could do with them, “if only”. (You know…if only we had the time, if only we had the budget, if only we had the buy-in).   After all, mobility and presence are the next big thing in social networking, right? 

I was particularly fascinated when I read  tweets from Corinne Rusch-Drutz whose organization actually went beyond the daydream.  

Corinne agreed to write a post about her experiences with the project.   Take it away Corinne….


In the spring of 2010, YWCA Canada, the country’s oldest and largest women’s service organization launched a sexual health app for young women, the YWCA Safety Siren.

With a nifty hook – the app functions like a modern day rape whistle by setting off a screeching alarm and sending an SOS urgent email and call to a friend when the user is in an unsafe situation displaying her location on a map – we felt it would be an excellent way to get young women to think about safety beforeheading out on a date.  Features include short questions and answers about sexual health and wellness; information on dating and hooking up; tips and facts on safety; essential crisis information; links to YWCAs across Canada well as over 250 health and crisis resource centres.  Available as a free download in both English and French, the app’s robust functionality geo-connects women to resources by proximity or location and maps them with directions. 

We thought, yeah baby, this app is going to put us on the map as a non-profit.  And in some ways it did, but not in ways we expected.  Our spectacular failure to really market the app in a way that would immediately grab the attention of young women is one of the app’s most interesting stories. That’s not to say it hasn’t been successful, it has.  To date, the app has had over 3,500 downloads and – interestingly enough – over 21,000 user sessions, which shows that users are actually engaging with the product once downloaded (this last part is perhaps the most encouraging, as how often have you downloaded an app only to find that it rests woefully untouched in the bone yard 10thscreen of your iPhone).  What we didn’t realize when we built it was that an app needs more than just a great idea, but solid marketing strategy to give it the exposure it needs.   

 It’s not always true that if you build it they will come. Why we thought that simply building an app would attract users, I’m not exactly sure.  There weren’t (and still aren’t) that many nonprofits in the app market when we started developing the Safety Siren (February 2010) and even fewer doing sexual health related work. 

While there’s a lot to be said for doing it first, there’s also a lot to be said about learning from other’s mistakes.  Unfortunately we didn’t really have any others to learn from so we forged ahead and made our own.  I had always thought (erroneously I now understand) that an app goes viral because it’s great, or cool, or picks up on the zeitgeist.  Turns out the success of an app can often be directly proportional to the amount of marketing dollars invested in it, a little gem I picked up when attending the SXSW Festivalin Austin, TX, where everything from free beer to tacos is used to sling product to key social influencers.

Of course a marketing plan for your app is often the last consideration when nonprofits are already working on shoe string budgets just to create a build.  That’s when you need to put your fund development team (or, um, person depending on how many people you have in your org) in action to help you get the message out with sponsored partnerships.  We had some great support from NewAd Media who plastered our ads in women’s bathroom stalls in restaurants across the country.  Lots of feminist media outlets loved what we were doing and wanted to share with women in their communities.  Some of our best support came from other women’s health organizations who wanted to network with us, find out what we learned and then passed on our work to their stakeholders.  We connected with every women’s health org listed in the app, sent palm cards and posters to them and learned much more about young women’s health needs then we ever would have through a traditional vertical “marketing” strategy. In this way we were able to start conversations about sexual health with young women outside our own networks and really use a very grass roots approach to women’s sexual health tech.

 Truthfully, the highest influx of downloads didn’t come from any of the above or traditional media hype  but from in-app advertising that we actually paid hard cash for.  Makes sense, someone is more likely to download an app when she has her iPhone in her hand.  And so we’ve learned the hard way that it actually costs as much to build an app as it does to advertise it.   Who knew?  The folks who made Angry Birds, no doubt.

Despite our inexperience prior to undertaking the project, it was an amazing learning curve, however steep.  Would we do it again? Absolutely. Ready to learn from where we went wrong, we’re gearing up to give it a second go as we prepare to build on the BlackBerry platform.  The best take away? Starting conversations in sexual health that we never expected.

Corinne Rusch-Drutz is the Director of Communications & Membership Development at YWCA Canada. You can find her on Twitter @corinnerd.

Introducing new SMiCH content & editor

“Social media is just a bunch of strangers talking to each other.”

I frequently hear that criticism from social media skeptics.  But I prefer to think of social media not as talking to a bunch of strangers — but to a great bunch of people that I just don’t know yet.  Like Dave Bourne.

Dave is the Manager of Corporate Communiations at the Scarborough Hospital, and a regular contributor to the #hcsmca community.   While not quite as ubiqitous as #hcsmca founder Colleen Young (let’s face it, who could be), he regularly shares his social media experiences, resources and ideas.

I was thrilled when Dave suggested adding a collection of social media statistics & graphs on SMiCH and agreed to curate the collection.   Let’s face it, we’ve all spent time on Google searching for them!

So, today I welcome the first editor to join SMiCH — Dave Bourne.  Please check out the start of his collection, and feel free to recommend additions to it!

Social media guidelines for professional practices


Earlier this month the Canadian Medical Association announced it was working on a set of social media guidelines for Canadian doctors.

It seems like a good time to share the start of my research on how other professional practices are dealing with this issue.

Obviously I’ve focused on Ontario colleges. But if you have any information to share from any other colleges or professional practice groups, please let me know and I’ll be happy to add it here.

Federation of Health Regulatory Colleges of Ontario
The Federation is made up of the province’s 21 health regulatory colleges.  They said this is a very hot top among the colleges right now and they have formed a working group to review it.  One of the member colleges has started work on an eLearning module that they hope all may be able to share.  They do not have any specific guidelines at this time.

The College of Nurses of Ontario indicated that they have not issued guidelines specific to social media because they feel it is covered under their current code of ethics. However they have clarified their position in some published Q&As in their magazine The Standard. For instance, they indicate that nurses should not “friend” patients through social media. They also cover off ethical considerations around talking about patients or co-workers on Facebook. Here are exerts from their magazine, courtesy of the college.
The Standard part 1
The Standard Part 2

As mentioned, the Canadian Medical Association is working on a set of guidelines.  In the interim, here are two other relevant sources on the topic:

The Canadian Medical Protective Association has an article warning about potential breaches in confidentiality.

The American Medical Association has issued a policy regarding  social media.  They flag privacy concerns, content considerations and professonional behaviour.  And, interestingly, while they discuss patient/physician boundaries, they do not specifically recommend against “friending” patients.

Child Life:
The Child Life Council also advises against “friending”. The rest of its guidelines are very standard, and written in a very easy-to-read fashion.

The Ontario College of Teachers has issued a professional advisory on social media.  They recommend declining friend requests from students, and avoiding text exchanges. And advise to notify parents before using social media in classroom activities.

Lab Techs
The College of Canadian Medical Laboratory Technologists have practice guidelines in place that outline boundaries, but I understand they do not yet have anything specific addressing social media.

The College of Physiotherapists of Ontario does not yet have any guidelines specific to social media.  They closest thing they have is the guide to maintaining therapeutic relationships.

The College of Psychologists of Ontario is currently reviewing the topic of social media.  They indicated that, for now, the closest they have is the code around dual relationships, and principle #6 around public representation of information.  They were really helpful and pointed me to the Federation.

Do you have other examples to share?  Please add a comment to this post or email them to me at

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