The role of social media in healthcare is growing rapidly. Earlier this year research found that 60% of us head online for information when we become unwell.
So it's with great pleasure I can welcome Matt Jameson Evans to the site. Matt is the founder of HealthUnlocked, a site that takes a community approach to healthcare.
AG: How long has the site been going?
MJE: We launched a beta of HealthUnlocked in 2010 and the full version in 2011. And it took until 2012 to get in the swing of things so that now we can say we're the biggest social network for patients in the UK.
AG: What was the aim when it was founded?
MJE: Our goal is the same as it when we started - to help people make better decisions about their health. We're passionate that good, 'human' technology that connects people will bring about a new era in managing health. But it has to be a massive network of 'real' people to be transformative.
AG: How did the official tie up with the NHS come about?
MJE: In 2012 NHS Choices (NHS.UK) had been trying to build online communities for patients for a few years but it hadn't taken off. In fact there was very little activity at all. On the other hand we had highly buzzy communities set up with well-known patient organizations. So we were invited to a tender to be able to 'plug in' the HU communities into the NHS. It's been a great success - I think it now offers the best of both worlds: evidence-based curated content in NHS Choices alongside the experiences of real people from HealthUnlocked side by side.
AG: How do you ensure that responses to queries are accurate and informative?
MJE: We are non-editorial so unless it's against the rules we don't get involved. Accuracy and quality assurance is checked by the administrators, volunteers and members in the system - and usually it's other users who flag up any problems with accuracy. And 99.9% of people understand that it's not supposed to replace the relationship with a doctor or nurse. It's complementary and supportive.
AG: Do you have any mechanism for feeding back the views of patients to professionals?
MJE: Where doctors are part of the platform (either GPs or Specialists) patients can send feedback. These are either structured questionnaires (so-called 'Patient-reported outcomes') or experience feedback (for the GPs). This has worked really well and at some point we plan for a professional account in HealthUnlocked for any doctor to benefit from the same technology..
AG: Are there any plans to encourage professionals to monitor and participate in discussions?
MJE: Quite a few of the patient organizations have professionals involved in the discussions - often the helpline staff include nurses. On a broader scale we're keen to have some involvement of professionals but that's on hold for now.
AG: I know you have a major update planned in a few weeks, what will that entail?
MJE: It's less of an update and more of a complete reboot! The platform has been very successful up to now, but we felt it was time to make everything more intelligent. When you have 1,000,000 patients coming every month and a tidal wave of valuable experiences the system needs to be able to filter to your own personal needs and circumstances. We're very excited as it personalizes information much more - improving health decisions is ultimately about personalizing the information you use to make those decisions.