With great power comes great responsibility: Using Facebook to explain palliative care

Dr Leeroy William is a Consultant in Palliative Medicine at Monash Health and Eastern Health/Adjunct Senior Lecturer in Palliative Medicine at Monash University, Victoria, Australia. Here, Dr William explains the background to a longer article in the July/August edition of the European Journal of Palliative Care.

Dr Leeroy William

Dr Leeroy William

In 2010, I was lucky enough to hear Dr Alejandro Jadad deliver a plenary session at the International Congress of Palliative Care in Montreal. It was a memorable lecture, full of humour and insight into palliative care’s engagement with technology. Dr Jadad not only poked fun at our hesitancy to use email, but also challenged the fears we had of electronic patient communication. Fortunately, times have changed and we seem to be embracing technology – including the world of social media.1

Our team’s use of Facebook as a teaching tool occurred from a chance observation. It was the prevalence of laptops in the audience that prompted my colleagues (Drs Michael Franco and Peter Poon) and me to think of engaging with students differently. The Facebook page (see link below) has become very relevant to the growing interest in palliative and end-of-life care observed in society. There seems to be a greater openness to discuss death and dying, in the context of an ageing population and the limitations of medical care.1, 2 Furthermore, Twitter (see link below) has become a portal to new research and conference updates from around the globe.

Dr Atul Gawande suggests our job in medicine is to enable wellbeing, and that palliative care provides the kind of thinking required to achieve this task.3 Although palliative care is a growing specialty, Dr Gawande recognises that all clinicians need to “apply such thinking to every person they touch”.3 I would certainly agree. After all, finding the balance between the knowledge of the disease, the beliefs of the patient and what we should do in the face of this information, describes the art of medicine. So, how can we achieve better integration of palliative care into mainstream medicine? How far have we come and how much further do we need to go?

Over the years, I have witnessed the misperceptions about palliative care from healthcare professionals, patients and their families. Despite decades of palliative care education, bridging the knowledge gap has been a challenge. However, social media affords us the opportunity to disseminate the palliative care message to a global audience. We have used the connectivity of social media to engage inter-professional and societal awareness about palliative care. Our Facebook page may spark an interest, challenge beliefs or change practices. However, with such power comes the responsibility to meet the demand generated. Palliative care services will need to prepare to deliver care both directly and indirectly. In so doing, perhaps we may achieve a culture of care in mainstream medicine that truly does cure sometimes, relieve often, but comforts always.

References and resources
1. Taubert M, Watts G, Boland J, et al. Review: Palliative social media. BMJ Support Palliat Care 2014; 4(1): 13-18.

2. Gawande A. BBC: 2014 Reith Lectures. [Internet]. London; 2014 Dec. Available from the BBC website.

3. Gawande A. Being Mortal: Medicine and what matters in the end. Metropolitan Books; 2014. P. 259.

EJPC224coverRead the full article in the European Journal of Palliative Care
This post relates to a longer article, ‘Facebook helps to get the palliative care message across to future doctors’ by Leeroy William, Michael Edward Franco and Peter Poon published in the July/August 2015 issue of the European Journal of Palliative Care  (vol. 22.4). If you have a web-based subscription to the journal you’ll be able to download this issue, plus all articles in the journal archive. You can also browse the archive and download articles by taking a 10-minute or 30-minute subscription. Members of the EAPC receive discounted subscription rates to the journal – click here to subscribe online.

Coming up…
On the EAPC Blog next week, Dr Amara Nwosu will be talking about his research on the use of Twitter to discuss end-of-life care.

This entry was posted in EAPC-LINKED JOURNALS, European Journal of Palliative Care, SOCIAL MEDIA and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to With great power comes great responsibility: Using Facebook to explain palliative care

  1. Thank you for this article and the Facebook page, I am delighted to share. After holding several Death Cafes I see the power of community sharing their stories, there is a huge sigh from people as they open up about their thoughts. Keep the talk happening in all its forms.

    • pallcare says:

      Thank you Annie. We’re glad you enjoyed the post. I will make sure that the author is aware of your comments. Perhaps you’d like to contribute something in the future?
      Best regards the social media team.

  2. Pingback: MyPal podcast: Social media and palliative care – Episode 15 | Amara Nwosu

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