Did you know that of all adults 66% use smartphones and 84% use social media in the UK?
Incredibly, Facebook has 1.65 billion worldwide monthly users. This, when we are struggling with some complex health challenges e.g. delivering an effective NHS service, recruiting/retaining health professionals, our ageing population, loneliness, responding to mental health issues, our ability to managing complex chronic illnesses, and the prevention of stroke, heart disease, cancer, lung, liver disease, Alzheimer's and diabetes!
So what's my point?
What if health professionals actually prescribed social media to benefit patients? Can social media unlock some of the burdens in our health system?
Could it reduce clinical appointments times; free up limited resources; safely reduce clinical support services; reduce hospital appointments/re-admissions; save our GPS and attract/ retain health professionals who are hemorrhaging from the NHS?
As a former high user of NHS let me explain my crazy thoughts.
I've often said boldly in my motivational speeches that,
'Facebook saved my life'.
As soon as I could try to use a keyboard to access my Facebook account at the nurses' station computer in Osborne 4 in 2010, I've literally never looked back!
'I will run again' were the first words I wrote in May 2010.
This became my pin-up poster in my hospital room. No one was in any doubt then as to what I was ambitiously aiming for.
My first assisted Facebook session lasted five hours (yeap I'm really obsessive!) But I got into trouble yet again! You see I developed such bad pressure sores on my forearms from the plank of wood - acting as a prop to support the weight of my wrists - when I typed. So frustratingly, I was then banned from using their keyboard for two weeks!
I first messaged my surprised husband and kids - weren't on Facebook. I also distinctly remember messaging my old University friend Cherryl in Dubai, saying that 'I was sorry I'd not been in touch for a while!' She was so shocked to hear from me, she fell off her chair at work!
For me, Facebook was many things in hospital.
Firstly, it took me beyond my hospital bubble and eased my worry and loneliness.
Secondly, it allowed me to compete with myself to try to improve. If I posted a challenge to myself like, to eat seven teaspoons of Petit Filou yoghurt or to sit unaided for five mins on my wall, then, I'd have to darn well do what I said or lose face. Losing face in life was never an option for me!
Thirdly, Facebook broke my boredom and distracted me from the pessimistic predictions about my future level of recovery.
Fourthly, it became a real-life soap opera as my husband and I would often have public disagreements on my wall. (We didn't think to use private messages ..oops!).
Amazingly, FaceTime was also used by one mum in hospital to read stories to her children giving them all some sense of normality.
But thanks to Facebook memories, I have a permanent reminder of what I wrote back in hospital. For example, 'I'm going home for a home visit tomorrow to officially do the stairs' (4th August 2010) or 'Privacy at last, I had my first shower alone' (11 August 2010) or 'Ok so I'm an impatient bugger... I guess the control freak is returning!' (6th September 2010)
When I came home we were all so excited. But quickly I felt very alone, vulnerable, frightened and lost. I had no 24 hour nursing support. My wider family/friends all returned to their 'normal' lives, that had been on hold - whilst visiting me/helping my husband and kids. I had lost my job along with my whole purpose in life. I felt disabled, worthless and alone.
I felt pensioned off at forty years of age. I was destined for a life of volunteering with The Stroke Association, but with our mortgage, car loan and kids to get through University, that was not a viable long term option!
Quite naturally, I realised other young stroke survivors not only felt just like me, but were also written-off and totally abandoned in their communities.
Three months after leaving hospital, I founded my own registered charity - Fighting Strokes - which I voluntarily ran for five years! I still am passionately driven to help anyone affected by the horrors of locked in syndrome (LIS) globally.
Our peer mentoring has helped patients self-manage globally to try to improve both physically and emotionally after stroke. Our twitter polls, Tweetchats and Hashtag campaigns allow us to gather up-to-date patient opinion.
But something else incredible has happened.
People I personally assisted and supported six years ago, are now offering support and mentoring other recent stroke survivors. The cycle of sharing and giving just keeps going.
Social media is immediate, responsive, relevant and respected.
I even pioneered the @ESCAPS_Study from an initial tweet to Joanna Fletcher-Smith in 2012! Twelve months later she secured £250,000 for our feasibility research.
Could social media actually reduce the costs of care in GP surgeries? Eg. To make/follow up/reduce appointments; to keep in touch with patients early; to help socially isolated patients.
I think if we really want to reduce the burden on the NHS, we should start to improve the way we interact with digitally engaged patients. Clinicians need to know and hang out where patients are.
So I say we need to start prescribing social media to help patients self-manage their own health conditions!
Kate Allatt Educator, stroke activist & motivational speaker
Follow me on Twitter @KateAllatt
Author of the Internationally Published "Running Free Breaking Out Of Locked In Syndrome." https://www.amazon.co.uk/Running-Free-Breaking-Locked-Syn-drome/dp/1908006641https://www.amazon.co.uk/Running-Free-Breaking-Locked-Syndrome/dp/1908006641