By Morenike Ajidagba
As the aging population increases worldwide, people are living longer and require more rehabilitative therapies due to chronic health complications, such as cancer, diabetes, and obesity (1). Health research has also evolved to become more patient-oriented through increased active collaboration and participation in the data gathering process with stakeholders, such as patients, their families, healthcare organizations and healthcare practitioners. The question arises to how researchers utilize online communication tools to disseminate accurate information to the public, and to foster a healthy and trustworthy relationship with their target audience? Community-based institutions, such as Alberta Health Services (AHS), developed strategies that include using a patient first approach (2). This strategy involves sharing information between the various stakeholder groups in the healthcare system through online platforms (2).
Blogging is an online communicational tool that can be used to effectively engage clients and other stakeholders, such as family members and caregivers involved in rehabilitative care by providing socioemotional support. It is an avenue that creates online spaces for individuals who are non-specialists to learn information regarding their health condition. Blogging also offers a perspective into the lived experiences of individuals living with chronic diseases (3). While there is limited literature into the role of digital communication and blogging in rehabilitative care, there have been submission guidelines set by certain online healthcare organizations for blog contributors (4).
Blogging within Healthcare Organizations
One example is Grand Rounds, which consists of healthcare bloggers based in the United States that share a summary of the latest news within the medical/health sphere (4). Blogging offers a glance into the lived experiences from both the patients and healthcare providers. The socio-emotional support provided through blogging decreases the sense of isolation and ensures patients as well as their healthcare providers can develop online connections and share information freely (3).
One of AHS’s strategic goal set for 2019-2020 was to develop stronger ties with patients and communities through community engagement and thoughtful and responsive communication (5). Through the ‘Together4Health’ initiative, Albertans are able to share their thoughts on various healthcare topics on the online platform (6). This initiative supports what is stated by Joep Cornelissen, a professor in Corporate Communication, that the effectiveness of an organization is dependent on how this organization is seen by the various stakeholders involved including employees, customers, investors and the general public (7). ‘Together4Health’ applies this principle through their community conversations which includes having informal chats about the healthcare system in Alberta (6). This helps to strengthen and nurture relationships as communities feel like their opinions are valued and welcomed in policy development. Patients and community members can share their lived experiences with chronic illnesses and thus provide recommendations for effective therapy.
Furthermore, initiatives that support science education within the community, such as the Telus World of Science (TWOSE) in Edmonton, Alberta, have had a great impact in introducing the general public to science knowledge that is simplified, understandable, and practical (8). TWOSE introduces audiences to scientific methods and the basic of the science research, and it celebrates and highlights the work of scientists and researchers to the local community. For example, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic there have been a series of interview from scientists across Edmonton sharing their expertise on how the public can better manage their health and wellness during isolation (9). Engaging patients in the community ensures better health outcomes for patients and effective improvements the healthcare system overall (5).
Not every researcher can relate to every patient, but the more diverse the communication mediums, then it can be assumed that patients have more exposure to useful information. For example, the use of layman terms in videos on the TWOSE website, helps to increase the accessibility to research information because it considers the fact that the public may not be well-versed in jargon-heavy terminology.
In addition, community initiatives like TWOSE address science literacy, provide access to fundamental science knowledge, and increase the propensity that individuals can make informed future health decisions. The blogging section of the TWOSE website, titled ‘LEARN’, contains several write-ups on different categories of science, such as science in society, everyday living, and science in the classroom (10). Having a blog section on a community-based website like this provides easily accessible information that caters to a larger audience that normally may not encounter such information.
Knowledge Dissemination and the Threat of an Infodemic
In a more media savvy and technologically advanced society, knowledge dissemination can result in an infodemic (11). According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an ‘infodemic’ refers to a barrage of misinformation due to an overabundance of information (12).
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the extent to which misinformation via social media can be detrimental to public health and rehabilitation of vulnerable individuals in society. This misinformation has increased vaccine hesitancy and negatively impacted the public’s response to the COVID-19 vaccination program (13). Researchers stated that misinformation surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic may lead to reduced mask use and the public’s tendency to abide by social distancing guidelines (14). Claims have been spread online suggesting unverified treatments against the virus, as well as conspiracy theories about the origin of the virus and its transmission. Claims made by popular figures compared to experts in that specific industry have the capacity to be widely spread and become a ‘viral sensation’ (15). Therefore, it is key to tackle this issue of misinformation by using the very forum of social media which is largely used to propagate misinformation and introduce a new set of influencers.
Misinformation debunkers such as Timothy Caulfield, the Canada Research chair in Health Law and Policy at the University of Alberta, believes that stakeholders across the world must unite now, more than ever, to fight the infodemic taking the world of science communication by full force (16). The goal is to maintain the quality of information spread across media platforms through easily accessible formats such as blogs. This requires that academics and science researchers develop communication skills that combine their expertise, research abilities, and social engagement in a manner that actively engages the general public (17). When combined with the expertise provided by healthcare practitioners and policymakers, the involved stakeholders can collaborate to initiate a positive impact on health outcomes (17).
The Merits of Blogging
Blogging provides a platform for patients and their families to emotionally process their conditions as well as share their experiences with their treatments and their quality of life (3). Health consumers, caregivers and patients often utilize the internet to search for information and possible diagnosis concerning their health condition. Blogging encourages patients to participate in knowledge sharing despite their expertise level by sharing their lived experiences with chronic conditions (18). For example, a recent explorative study on stroke survivors’ use of blogs to share their lived experiences, shows how blogging helped them to articulate their internal relationship with themselves as well as their external relationship with the world in addition to the impact of their stroke on their rehabilitation (19). Blogging their experiences provided these stroke survivors a safe space to discuss their past lives, move forward in their treatment and rehabilitation, and to adapt to their present condition.
Apart from sharing lived experiences, blogging has the potential to assist with health education, research collaboration, and dissemination (18). Introducing blogging as a communicational tool for patient use will add to the online ecosystem as a medium to encourage trust and mutual respect between healthcare practitioners and patients (18). Grand Rounds as an online blog community provides a quick and easy recap for readers that usually may not keep up to date with the latest news in health research. The blogs acts as a summary of current health topics to provide initial information to the reader and encourage further reading into a particular area of interest. One of the ways blogs like Grand Rounds established accountability is through submission guidelines for their bloggers. This creates accountability for the writers as well as assurance for readers that information published has been checked by editors.
Blogging can also add rich diversity and variety to the online communication sphere as practitioners can share out of their wealth of knowledge. These practitioners are properly equipped, educated, and well versed on communicating health research to others. In my opinion, to mitigate the impact of misinformation, setting blog submission guidelines allows individuals to be held responsible for what is shared online, like the Grand Rounds blogsite (4).
Based on the examples provided, blogging can be an effective communication tool for engaging patients and disseminating information about health research. In a day and age where patients have diverse experiences and backgrounds, blogs provide an informal and personable interaction between healthcare practitioners and the public through online connection. Blogs provides a platform to support individuals through their rehabilitative treatments and towards the overall goal of living an improved quality of life.
Featured illustration by Min Jee Kim for rehabINK.
To refer to this article, it can be cited as:
Morenike, A. Blogging as a communication tool to engage patients through the rehabilitative process. rehabINK. 2021:Issue 11. Available from: https://rehabinkmag.com
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