Last December, I wrote a post here about how I hoped more medical professionals would start using social media and other digital communication methods this year. Recently, I was thrilled to come across two very different cases of physical and mental healthcare providers doing just this.
Founded in 2011, the Crisis Text Line uses text messages, which is how people contact the hotline, and computers, which volunteers use to reply (the messages are sent directly to a help-seeker’s phone, like a text). It may seem like a novelty idea that doesn’t really have much purpose — after all, why text when there are plenty of helplines out there where you can talk to a real, live person?
But as Alice Gregory writes in a recent New Yorker article, co-founder Stephanie Shih learned firsthand that sometimes people don’t have a safe or private environment where they can talk about their problems. Shih was working at teen volunteer organization DoSomething.org when she was contacted via the site’s text line by a rape victim. Shih wasn’t trained in crisis management, but she messaged the woman a link to RAINN. The woman wrote back that she lived with her rapist and couldn’t call their helpline. The woman’s situation moved and obsessed Shih, but there was nothing she could do. The incident inspired her and Nancy Lublin (her boss at the time) to co-found Crisis Text Line.
Most of the people texting in are teens; Gregory reminds us that this is, after all, one of the major ways this age group (for whom depression is the third highest leading cause of death) communicates today. And it turns out texting may actually make it easier to talk about tough issues. For example, the challenges of texting, like small keypads/ buttons and outside distractions, make people channel their thoughts and write more clearly. Texting also tends to make people more open, both because no one around them necessarily knows what they’re doing, and because emotions they might find embarrassing can’t be heard in a text.
Crisis Text Line’s volunteers are highly trained (the article goes into fascinating detail about the training process) and any issue can be discussed. Sometimes texters just need to vent their frustrations. But other times, it’s something much more serious, with issues like rape, abuse, and suicide coming up regularly.
The second story of a connected medial professional is definitely more profit-oriented…not that that’s always a bad thing. Plastic surgeon Michael Salzhauer discovered Snapchat (a social media platform that lets you share photos and videos) thanks to his daughter, Buzzfeed’s Rachel Zarrell reports. While Salzhauer wasn’t allowed to post surgery images on other social media sites, Snapchat’s administers didn’t seem to have a problem with it, and so he started providing live coverage of (consenting) patients’ procedures, as well as behind-the-scenes details like what music he chooses to listen to while he works. His account has become a hit, with nearly 100,000 followers.
When I wrote about medical professionals getting more involved in social media, I talked about two benefits: informing and reassuring people who might be considering or facing a treatment or procedure, and getting your name out there to potential patients. It seems Dr. Salzhauer’s Snapchat has done both. Before he opened his Snapchat account, his practice booked 15-20 patients per day. Now, it’s 80-100.
And of course, it’s not just about profits: in addition to the many other issues they help resolve, on average, Crisis Text Line stops at least one suicide attempt a day.