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The impact of social media and its influence on the maternity service in England

Julia Gudgeon, Midwife and Clinical Advisor at NHS Digital
11 December, 2018

The impact of social media and its influence on the maternity service in England

The impact of social media in the role of the midwife and its influence on the digital maturity of the maternity service in England following the publication of the Digital Maturity Assessment (DMA) of Maternity Report today.

Technology is advancing at an exponential rate with the ability to enhance and transform maternity services across the nation.

The digital expectations of woman and their families are high and it’s really important that we use this digitally savvy group to shape our digital future. As clinicians we need to ensure we use technology to make a positive difference and ensure there are no unintended consequences.

Social media plays a particular role in the digital landscape. In the UK there are 44m people using social media. Pregnant women and new mothers want to use it and it is a quick, cost effective, and inclusive means of communication.

Our report revealed that Facebook still appears to be a popular social media platform for service users. Most of the maternity units that use Facebook put the name of the Trust and NHS in their title page making them easy to find. One maternity provider stands out – Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. They have set up a Facebook page called Maternity Direct which not only offers lots of information, but also provides a direct link to communicate with a midwife to whom people can privately ask non-urgent questions. It now has 5,500 followers, and its creator, midwife Rebecca Tranter, won the British Journal of Midwifery 2018 Practice Award for the use of technology in midwifery.

Several trusts have made very effective use of YouTube by showcasing their maternity units through videos, including Frimley Park Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and Epsom who put up a video six years ago which has now been viewed 575,000 times. However, it is important to recognise that videos must be updated if changes occur within the maternity unit. Also, it would be useful for women to still interact digitally with the service by asking questions or providing comments which can be responded to.

Many more maternity providers are using Twitter to communicate with women and their families and large amounts of information can be shared widely due to the ‘retweet’ facility. Many of the Maternity Voices Partnership local groups actively tweet, while other influencers include @whoseshoes, which brings together clinicians and service users to improve lives. They started the grassroots #matexp movement to improve maternity experience, contributed to the National Maternity Review and now have 26,000 followers. Professional organisations such as the Royal College of Midwives, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Nursery and Midwifery Council all use Twitter, as do the arm’s length NHS bodies, to showcase resources for clinicians and provide valuable updates on what is happening in maternity services.

Our DMA report discovered that Instagram appeared to be the least favoured means of communication, although Lincolnshire appears to be leading the way. Two accounts – NHS Lincoln Maternity and Better Births Lincolnshire, share useful images and allow comments and discussion with their service users.

There are currently no NHS maternity units using Snapchat as a method of communicating information, but market research suggests there is a decline in the use Facebook among 18 to 24-year-olds and so there is an expectation that the use of Snapchat will rise.

Although we have made great strides in the use of digital, there is still some immaturity in this field on the frontline and NHS Digital plays a pivotal role in reducing the gap between those services that use digital technology extensively and those who don’t.

We seem to be able to speak to relatives on the other side of the world quickly and easily, but sometimes struggle to engage with expectant and new mothers. Now is the time to change and our service users have told us we need to change.

We need to use social media responsibly. The Nursing and Midwifery Council has issued guidance underpinned by a code of practice. It is not intended to cover every social media situation that a midwife may face, but it does set out broad principles to enable people to act professionally and ensure public protection at all times.

Small steps using digital technology can have a big impact. Women and maternity services can work together and take those steps to drive better health care for all.

 

 

 

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I agree that social media is a great and useful tool for support and sharing information. Yes it is a communication tool of our times and needs to be embraced. I suppose my note of caution is about the abuse that pervades social media and that we have to be very clear about what is and what is not acceptable; taking individual and professional responsibility and always being aware and discerning. There is a poster at work that brings me up every time I see it - 'The standard you walk past is the standard you accept'. Let's ensure the quality of our communication and relationships online.