Today I am very proud to be hosting a guest post from Dana Lewis.  Dana Lewis is an interactive marketing specialist at a non-profit health system serving the Greater Seattle area. However, her tweets and thoughts (ranging from #hcsm to gluten-free cupcakes and elephants for BSparl) are always her own. She has had type 1 diabetes for eight years, celiac disease for two years, and is a fierce advocate for the idea that people with chronic illnesses are people first – and that no one deserves to be labeled by a disease.

Dana created the #hcsm chats on Twitter back in January 2009, and the online discussion has engaged and inspired hundreds of patients, doctors, and health care professionals alike.  She’s offered to share a little bit of her story, and I’m looking forward to seeing how far her passion for #hcsm takes her!

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Dana Lewis:  BSparl's favorite long-distance baby sitter.  :)

It’s hard to understand the power of health care in social media until you experience it first hand. For those of us with chronic illnesses, it’s a no-brainer to seek and find support from individuals (and groups) online. But two years ago, the concept of using social media for any purpose in health care beyond patient to patient support was foreign to the greater health care industry.

I’m obviously biased, but I believe the creation of the weekly #hcsm (health communications & social media) chats online played a role in helping social media become more adopted in the health care world.

#hcsm was the first regular health care hashtag and chat, which quickly evolved into a well-established community. Although I’m not a blogger, I am an avid lurker in the DOC and often experience the numerous and varied benefits of health care & social media first hand. As I began working in health communications, it seemed natural to explore social media further to learn from others established in the field. Thus, #hcsm was born simply out of a desire to have an ongoing conversation about social media in health care.

Fast forward to today – #hcsm is a growing, vibrant community with global health care impact. #hcsm has several “sister” chats in EuropeAsiaAustralia/New ZealandLatin America, and more. Social media in health care is becoming mainstream, or at the very least explored regularly, around the world. 

However, the principle of #hcsm is removing the barriers so that students and established professionals can all learn from one another; so that doctors and patients can understand each others’ motivations and obstacles to communication; and so that in the end, we’re making a difference in health care.

While social media in health care has come along way, there are still basic elements of health communication that need to be fixed. My blanket, non-medical prescription for anyone, whether they are a doctor or patient, includes:

1. Do not label any individual or group by their disease. Call yourself what you will, but don’t force a label upon another individual. We don’t accept labeling in our society by gender, age, race, or ethnicity – why should we allow discrimination by disease?

2. Realize that not all patients are the same – each have different motivations, and each have a different health care (and life) experience. People don’t (usually) choose to be “sick” or “ill”; we didn’t ask for type 1 diabetes – we just happen to have it. Regardless, we’re people first and patients second.

If you could add an item to this prescription list for the health care world (after a cure for diabetes & other diseases), what would it be?

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Thanks for posting, Dana!  (And BSparl says thank you for all of the elephant fun treats!  We are working on animal sounds and so far we have “meow” for kitty and “pffffft” for elephant. /sidenote)