Patient contact and self-advocacy on Social Networks

When it comes to social networks, Facebook stands out for me for two reasons:

Firstly, I am chronically ill and don’t get out much. I don’t get to see my friends unless they come to me, I don’t have colleagues to say ‘hi’ to each day, I don’t even have a pet to hang out with. I do, of course, have a Magic Dude! (that’s my boyfriend, for those of you who don’t already know 😉 ). His presence gives a whole new dimension to my life, for which I am most appreciative (a massive understatement, of course)! I also have a brilliant and supportive Local Friend, who pops round for tea and a natter every now and again. (We really must drag him out somewhere for his belated birthday celebrations)! But on the whole I just don’t get to see most of the people who I care about so much. And unless I’ve got an appointment with a medical practitioner who I haven’t met before, I tend not to get to meet new people either. So Facebook as a ‘social’ network is all the more meaningfully named for someone like me who just doesn’t get to socialise in the ‘real’ world any more. Facebook is my lifeline and my laptop is my window on the world.

Secondly, Facebook has a more direct effect on my condition, knowledge and treatment….

My condition is so complex and multidisciplinary that many medical practitioners do not know anything about it. Those who do know of it, tend to know it from the angle of their own discipline and thus do not have the broader multi-systemic picture. I therefore have had to become my own expert. I have had to acquire multidisciplinary information on my condition to be able to share it with practitioners to enable a clearer overall picture, better understanding of what is going on in my body and a better platform of knowledge from which to discuss symptoms and possible routes of assessment and/or treatment.

This would be a darn sight easier if I wasn’t a patient alone, searching the internet, only to find that information on CRPS is mostly limited to the view that it is a chronic pain condition to be treated as other chronic pain conditions. When we are new patients with no doctor to ask questions of, many of us turn to the internet, (a paper is being written on this, I’ll let you know when it becomes available). The trouble with this approach is that health information on the Internet varies in quality, (Morahan-Martin, 2004). As research moves forward the understanding of this complex condition changes and grows. There are old views of CRPS which are now obsolete, but they can still be found on the Internet as if they are current – there is nothing to tell us otherwise. A good example of this is the renowned ‘stages’ of RSD / CRPS which were discarded back in 2004 (see this page for more info) but can still be found all over the internet as if they are still thought to be relevant. No wonder so many of us learned to distrust information on our condition on the internet and instead turned to research journals to be sure that what we find is actually current.

This is where Facebook comes into its own for us patients. So many of us are already on the social network that it is very easy for us to run a quick search for one of many CRPS support groups on there. Anecdotal evidence suggests that CRPS support websites outside of the social network have become far less used as Facebook use has become more prolific. Nowadays this is where many of us patients finally get to meet each other. Even if there were more of us within visiting distance we would still find it easier to meet online as there are many days where even getting to the bathroom is outside our visiting distance! So modern social technology has brought us together.

On Facebook we can meet. We can feel reassured we are not alone, experience empathy from others about our condition experiences, we can share information, including research papers to show our doctors, and much more. Through discussing our thoughts, ideas and understandings of our condition online with fellow patients, who also have gathered a large amount of knowledge on the subject, we can refine our understanding, our ways of working, and find oodles of encouragement to keep on going. Whether it’s to get through physio sessions, benefits assessments, relationship hiccups stemming from condition complexities, or just simply to get through the day, the key is that we are not alone, that there are others with knowledge and experience who we can ask questions or bounce ideas off. There are fellow patients who ‘get it’ and they are just a few clicks of a button away. It’s a resource that I could never put a value on, it is truly priceless.

The added bonus is that I have met some truly wonderful people online. I have made friends – really good friends. We may be separated by time zones, but if you look at it from another point of view.. we are not restricted by time zones – we can meet so many people from all around the globe, so statistically speaking it is perhaps not that surprising that contact with so many people reveals some souls who fit beautifully with our own and who become truly dear to us in ways we never would have expected. Facebook has expanded my friendship group, who knew? 😀

I’m not on Twitter, maybe one day I’ll get round to it. I don’t have a mobile phone that connects to the internet. I do now have a Pinterest account, but the function of a picture sharing site is different to Facebook. Through the Book of Faces I have found long-lost friends, I have more regular contact with friends who I had not lost but who are geographically far away (which is anyone further away from me than my bathroom 😉  ), I have gained and clarified knowledge about my condition, shared information with fellow patients, I even have my own blog page on Facebook. So from a patient perspective there is no question for me which is my favourite social network, because only one has enabled me to come together with fellow patients with such an astoundingly positive way.

Much as I hate to love a big corporation on sheer principle, this particular one has truly changed my life, x

Fbk page

x

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P.S. If you are on Facebook… there is a superb research page specifically relating to CRPS called “RSD/CRPS Research and Developements” (recently a finalist in WEGO’s Health Activist Awards). The page is run by knowledgeable admin’s who are a mixture of expert patients, experts in the field and a fab combination of expert patient with medical training. Research is posted regularly, and it’s a great place to ask questions of a more medically focused nature. (If you want to come back and find it later, it is also listed on my ‘Useful Links‘ page).

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The reference mentioned in the text was:
Morahan-Martin, J.M. (2004) in ‘How internet users find, evaluate, and use online health information: A cross-cultural review’, CyberPsychology & Behaviour, Vol. 7, Issue 5, 497-510

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