A couple of weeks ago at the ADS ADEA conference, I spoke at one of the Symposia about how healthcare professionals can get involved with diabetes social media. Today, social media has the ability to connect people like never before and is something about which I am passionate. I speak and write regularly about the power of the diabetes online community (DOC) as a way to bring together peers; my presentation at the Doctors 2.0 and You conference in Paris back in June discussed how social media can be used to connect four of the players in healthcare – patients, healthcare professionals, healthcare organisations and industry.

I was a little nervous about discussing this topic because I know how reticent a lot of HCPs are when it comes to social media and its value to people living with diabetes. Because of its very nature, social media is unregulated. There is just so much out there; how is anyone meant to know where to direct people? And equally, what should be given a very wide berth? (For the record – anything claiming that cinnamon cures diabetes is a crock and should be ignored!)

cinnamon cure

With thanks to the clever people at Diabetes.Daily.com

But actually, that wasn’t what my talk was about. My talk was about why people with diabetes turn to social media; what (and who) we look for and what we get from an online community of peers that we can’t necessarily get from our HCPs. I then moved to discuss how HCPs can engage with the very same things we are using.

My presentation was gentle – a lot of the people in the room had never considered using Facebook as a tool to provide support and connect with others living with diabetes. Whilst there is a general understanding about the value of peer support, that view is often out-dated and focuses on a more traditional picture – face-to-face support groups.

I discussed how health professionals around the world use social media as a mechanism to connect with other health professionals and how crowdsourcing diagnoses works. I suggested the audience look up Bertalan (Berci) Meskó and consider enrolling in his online Social MEDia course.

I explained how Twitter is about far more than finding out what Kim Kardashian ate for breakfast and discussed weekly diabetes tweetchats, urging the HCPs to check in, lurk for a week or two and then take part.

Social media works for people with diabetes because it feels like a safe place. I know that idea is completely contrary to what many HCPs believe – they see it as anything but safe!  But I know that I can log on to Twitter or Facebook at any time of the day or night and there will be someone there who can say to me ‘I know how you feel’. There will never be judgement; there will never be accusations of not trying hard enough. But there will be support.

And I guess that’s the crux of this. We know our community and we feel safe there. In his TED talk, Berci Meskó discusses how crowdsourcing works when you know your audience and your social media networks.

The final thing I discussed was diabetes blogs. There are two ways HCPs can use blogs. The first is for themselves; they can read them; they can take in what people are saying. Because it’s by reading the blogs of people living with diabetes that the real-life stuff comes through. It’s a way for them to get a good understanding of the things that we don’t talk about in our appointments with them, but the things that are important and impact on how we manage not only our diabetes, but our every day lives.

Also, they can use them for their patients. If ever a patient says ‘I feel so alone’, I suggested that they direct them to a well-known diabetes blog. There will probably be a post somewhere in the diabetes blogosphere that will address the same issues the PWD are experiencing.

The diabetes social media world does not need to be scary and regarded with suspicion. The role of HCPs is not under threat because PWD are using social media – that’s not what it’s for. It is just the 2.0 version of peer support.


Don’t forget – weekly #OzDOC Twitter chats are on Tuesday at 8.30pm (eastern time).



The Can Technology Cure Healthcare’s Future symposium was sponsored by Sanofi. My travel costs were covered by Sanofi, however I did not receive any payment from them. Sanofi had no input into my presentation. Good on them for supporting such an important topic!