I think it promotes autonomy, self-management and behaviour change, moving away from a paternal approach and encouraging patient participation. There’s more information available digitally than we could ever provide through leaflets, so directing patients to live sites is often better. If you work in a regional centre, directing patients to websites or other digital media can make it easier to keep people up to date with what’s happening in different areas. More and more patients of all ages are also choosing to use mobile apps to monitor physical activity levels, rather than paper diaries.
How do you and your colleagues let people know what’s available?
We have lots of leaflets and resources from Macmillan, and in those are websites we can direct patients to for additional support or specific information. We might also direct patients to local groups such as those within local authorities we work in partnership with.
If people can’t look online themselves they may ask a relative, friend or neighbour to help, or go to their local library. I never assume that because someone’s elderly they’re not interested in social media or digital communication. As people are getting older they’re much more internet literate, using phones and tablets regularly.
Does social media have a role to play?
I use social media to network with other healthcare professionals but I always make sure to disassociate myself from my employer. That’s very important. On Twitter most people say 'views are my own' to make this distinction.
If we are working on a project within NHS Tayside we go through our communications department to share our work on social media. If you’re using social media professionally, it’s important to follow the guidance your employer gives you otherwise it can be difficult.
Some hospices in Scotland have their own Facebook and Twitter pages. It’s done very sensitively and tastefully and I think it’s really powerful. It unites people in a way you couldn’t do before.
How useful do you find digital channels for connecting with other professionals?
I use Twitter a lot, professionally. I’m the Scottish Representative for the Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Oncology and Palliative Care, and I use Twitter to disseminate information. I have made contact with physiotherapists all over the world. Twitter is also great for conferences – I can use event hashtags to tell people what’s happening and if I can’t attend I can still follow what’s happening by following the hashtags.
On Facebook I’m part of two groups. Palliative Rehabilitation, set up by Gail Eva and Cathy Payne, is a supportive place where physios, occupational therapists and other health care professionals worldwide can post articles, ask questions and share information. The second group, Palliative Re-enablement, is made up of people looking at the service they provide and asking questions about their rehabilitative focus. I’ve been able to make really good contacts with people through social media, while always ensuring I follow my employer’s guidance.
I also use the Community of Practice set up by Debbie Provan, National AHP Lead for Cancer Rehabilitation, on the Knowledge Network, Scotland. It’s a group where AHPs interested in cancer rehabilitation can share articles and details of current research. And there’s the AHP Scot Blog, which has generated interesting discussions through the sharing of views and project work.
Sharing digitally speeds things up for everyone. It means we’re not all trying to reinvent the wheel – we can pick up where others have left off and take things forward.
Are there any professional successes you’ve had as a result of digital communication?
I worked on a project in 2012 which got a lot of digital coverage when we first presented the results. It was on the AHP Scot Blog, and NHS Tayside put it on their Facebook page. I had connected with Debbie Provan through Twitter previously and she became my mentor for the project. We won a PAHA (Physical Activity and Health Alliance) Award in 2014 and the project was also featured in Mac Voice. In the past a project from several years ago would be old news by now but in May this year I was still presenting the findings of the project at a national conference. As it’s still out there on digital channels, people come across it and ask us to share. That’s why it’s so important to maintain professional standards when using social media.
I’ve made connections all over the world with people involved in palliative care rehabilitation and cancer care. Recently someone in England posted in the Palliative Rehabilitation Facebook group with questions about risk associated with exercise and bony metastases. Very quickly people answered with current guidelines, details of what the ACPOPC (Association of Chartered Physios in Oncology and Palliative Care) are doing and examples of their own practice. Things like that are really helpful.
I think digital communication encourages people to ask questions and find answers. It’s an open and welcoming way of finding information and members are willing to share their expertise with others who want to learn. I’d be lost without social media, professionally. It’s a great way to network, keep up to date and connect with specialists across the world. And if you are a specialist, it’s a great way to share your knowledge, in line with your professional body and employer’s guidelines.
Macmillan Specialist Physiotherapist
1 Hospice UK. Rehabilitative Palliative Care – a Challenge for the 21st Century. 2015. (accessed July 2016)
2 Physical Activity and Health Alliance. Improving Equity and Access to Physical Activity Therapy in Palliative Care (supported by NHS Tayside Allied Health Professional Practice Development Scheme). (accessed July 2016)
Continue reading this issue of Sharing Good Practice
How digital services can help you and those you support
Online support at different steps
Case study - Debbie Provan
Digital support - Further reading