Editor’s Note: Social Medicine

How we can bring a social media sharing mentality to the doctor

An x-ray scan of a hand.

photo by owen beard

Many of us regularly share our stories—multiple times an hour, if we wish—all over the web. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, or whichever platform suits us best. We also consume more personal stories than ever via the never-ending queue of reality TV, documentary series, and podcasts. There are gripping criminal investigations, the glamorous lives of celebrities, ridiculous plates of food, home improvement, and televised quests for true love. In all cases, each individual context—the who, where, when, and why of these stories—is everything.

Your current context might be that you’re reading this very sentence while waiting to see a doctor. Even if that’s not the case, consider a visit to one of our features this month, “These MInnesotans Give Healthcare a Human Touch.” What you’ll find is a reminder that our personal stories, our individual contexts, are of the utmost importance when we’re receiving any sort of medical treatment. Although it can be kind of awkward—you might even have to (shudder) interrupt a harried doctor—it’s sometimes entirely up to us to remind professionals at the hospital that no one arrives at an appointment with the exact set of circumstances they’re looking for.

Technology has afforded us impressively personalized medical approaches—more data can be extracted from our cells than ever before—but a lot of crucial data is stored in our memories. Thanks to people like Syl Jones, who leads narrative medicine efforts at Hennepin Healthcare in Minneapolis, doctors, nurses, and other providers are learning to ask more questions, and to listen. But that still means a patient has to open up, let their guard down, and share the life factors that might not seem pertinent on a medical chart of old. “We care for human beings, not for the gallbladder in room 315,” Jones says in the story. So much of our humanity—and, ahem, personal data—gets documented and shared on our social feeds, so why not extend that to what we say at the clinic?