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Twitter tweet chats on the examining table: #nhssm

September 5, 2010

Next up on the examining table is #nhssm (National Health Service Social Media).

Having started in July of this year, #nhssm is a relative newcomer on the health-related Twitter chat scene. Alex Talbott, a trainee on the first ever NHS Communications Graduate Management Training Scheme, set up the tweet chat as a knowledge exchange and case study finder of good social media work within the NHS.

On Mondays at noon GMT #nhssm discussion kicks off with an overarching topic or question concerning the NHS and social media. The community debates the topic, taking it where the participants need it to go. It is important to note that views expressed on the #nhssm tweet chat and its related blog do not represent NHS policy nor are they the official NHS policy channel on social media.

I caught up with Alex recently and asked him about how #nhssm got started and what he hopes it will achieve.

Alex Talbott: #nhssm was born from an interview between NHS Salford’s Head of Communications and @VikkiChowney from Reputation Online. The interview attracted an interesting and diverse audience and I didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to learn from them, so a month or so later I rolled out the first #nhssm chat which attracted 61 contributors.

By contributing to the discussions around social media use in healthcare, #nhssm aims to ultimately produce the evidence base for the wide scale integration of social media into NHS communications.

Further to this aim I realised that many NHS communicators using social media are isolated on their patch and do not benefit from much or any support. #nhssm has enabled us all to get together and offer ideas, solutions and questions to the community, thus forming a support network. Importantly this network extends beyond the NHS and takes advantage of other interested parties who join in each week. NHS communicators are often fighting a constant battle to continue to use, or even begin to use social media; I hope that via #nhssm we can provide the evidence for the integration of social media into the NHS communications mix.

Before #nhssm there was a severe lack of discussion around the NHS’ use of social media. Too often blog posts and discussions only concentrated on the private, for-profit sectors. The #nhssm community has broken this trend, and has begun to tackle the very NHS specific questions around patient confidentiality, online diagnosis and other ethical considerations that infrequently impact on the private sector.

Who would you like to see participate in the nhssm chats?

AT: Anyone and everyone! The NHS is a pillar of UK society and a source of great pride for many Brits. The more engaged the NHS becomes with online and offline communities, the better it can meet the needs of the public and patients in an evidenced based manner. Social media offers a channel to connect with different healthcare communities. Over time I hope to see the #nhssm community grow to include patients, doctors, nurses, managers, policy staff, members of the public – in essence everyone who has an interest in their healthcare and the NHS.

I imagine that as the community matures and we begin to get more comfortable online (and promote #nhssm activity offline), #nhssm will attract a wider audience. Then we can really accelerate exploration and education around the NHS’ use of social media.

In your opinion, what are the benefits of participating in health-related tweet chats such as #nhssm?

AT: Shonali Burke has just written a great post on twitter chats and how to get the best out of them (disclosure: it mentions me! :P). All chats I have observed and or participated in (#measurepr, #commschat and #nhssm) have been great sources of learning and efficiently filter a lot of knowledge sources into a more manageable list recommended by the communities.

Specifically, health-related chats enable often isolated social media forerunners within the NHS (managers and clinicians) to seek advice and support, helping them improve. They generate ideas and ways in which to explore them. Most importantly they feed-in input from a wide variety of people, leading to great networking opportunities, which have added real value to the work I do in my day-to-day job as a communications practitioner and to #nhssm.

What do you think? Is the #nhssm chat a suitable vehicle to produce an evidence base to promote (or disprove) the wide scale integration of social media into NHS communications?
This Twitter chat series also appears on doc2doc blogs.
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