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MON: Networking in Health and Social Care: The Implementation of On-line Forums for Peer Support (Susan Hobbs)
Cloud created by:
Dr Simon Ball
2 February 2014
Internet forums are a useful method of implementing interaction and of group learning. However, forums within health and social care are currently underutilised for this purpose. Health and social care professionals readily use social media for personal and leisure purposes so this leads to the question:
‘Why are internet forums not used more widely for peer support within health and social care?’
Some health and social care organisations now use forums within their websites as a method of widening participation but also implementing Web 2.0 technology to encourage sharing of information, best practice and to seek advice. Examples of these include ‘Talking Point’ from the Alzheimer’s Society which is open to all participants (Alzheimer's Society, 2013), and ‘Care Space’ from Community Care (Community Care, 2013) for social workers.
Individual health and social care professionals are already encouraged to reflect on their practice and use their own experiences to improve their future performance, as part of their practical training and ongoing professional development. However, reflection and discussion are often permitted only within a close group of work colleagues from the same organisation, and this type of reflection can be termed as intra-reflection. Intra-reflection can be limited in its usefulness, as this restricted group of workers may all have had similar experiences. Therefore, to encourage inter-reflection, or the sharing of experiences in a meaningful way with practitioners from other organisations, the wider use of on-line forums could be implemented. This lack of inter-reflection may, in fact, limit practitioners’ opportunities to widen their knowledge or share in the best practice from other but similar organisations. It may also prevent identification of serious failures in care provision.
Implementing the use of online forums appears to be an accessible method of allowing the sharing of ideas and for peer support, but initially it was unclear why it has not been successfully implemented within health and social care. Further investigation revealed a fundamental reason why this might be the case. The concept of confidentiality.
As part of the research for this paper a small-scale survey of health and social care professionals was conducted. This revealed that the majority of respondents viewed any use of social media to discuss work-related issues as a breach of confidentiality. Despite confidentiality being a major concern by employers and regulators, anonymising reflective accounts of practice is permissible within written coursework, so this should not be seen as a barrier to forum use. More importantly professionalism, when using forums, should be of greater concern, as even with codes of conduct, individual offensive or negative posts could bring the profession into disrepute as seen through the eyes of service users.
The assumption that the use of forums somehow breaches confidentiality appears unfounded. If the use of written reflective accounts in care worker education is valid, then similar posts on specific internet forums for health and social care professionals should be equally accepted. The question remains, can the use of internet forums be made to work?
Alzheimer's Society, 2013. Talking Point. [Online]
Available at: http://forum.alzheimers.org.uk/showthread.php?36481-Poorly-paid-care-workers
[Accessed 3 December 2013].
Community Care, 2013. Care Space. [Online]
Available at: http://www.communitycare.co.uk/carespace/forums/default.aspx
[Accessed 3 December 2013].