[Health 2.0] Anonymity a Concern for Patient Social Networks?

By December 11, 2013
patient with computer

Unge chat provides a secure social network for younger patients so that they can discuss their symptoms and support each other, while keeping their identities anonymous.

Important as communication undoubtedly is in the doctor-patient relationship, given the workload facing clinicians and nurses it often has to take a back seat in favour of action. However, a solution presented at the Health 2.0 event in London in mid-November by Danish mobile and web solutions provider Make is intended to bridge this gap. Unge Chat is a patient social network, an instant messaging system for hospitalised youngsters designed to help them get through their illness. And what marks it out from the many other systems in existence – such as the French Hôpital Affinité (Affinity Hospital) – is one very important aspect: security. The Make setup enables young in-patients to chat freely among themselves – avoiding exclusive reliance on the doctor’s bedside presence – on an entirely anonymous basis, so that the youngsters do not divulge any personal medical data.

Alleviating the doctor’s bedside load

In order to ensure that any newcomer on this closed network is actually an in-patient, only the nurses and doctors are entitled to invite people to join. Under the anonymity provided by the platform, patients can speak openly about their symptoms and anxieties to other patients who may be or might have been in similar situations, without any risk of being recognised. “On the one hand most patients believe their symptoms are unique when of course this is very rarely the case, and on the other hand they are reluctant to tell other people how they feel about things, especially when they think their symptoms are embarrassing,” explained Make founder and CEO Thomas Eriksson. Moreover, the hospital staff do not have access to the network, unless the welfare coordinator makes a direct request – e.g. in cases where a patient is showing psychological problems. “We didn’t see the need to integrate doctors into the network. We want patients really to be able to express themselves, to be able to say they’ve had a damned shitty day and find understanding and support rather than a reprimand,” explained Thomas Eriksson, adding: “In addition, the community spirit means that if a youngster’s state of mind really takes a downturn, the others are likely to alert the healthcare staff.”

More widespread connections coming soon

Unge Chat is today up and running at the Hans Christian Andersen Children’s hospital in Odense, in Denmark, but the Make team intends to extend the system beyond the 13-25 age- group. “Many older patients, who are just as likely as the youngsters to feel lost and lonely during their stay in hospital, have come to ask us to make Unge Chat available to the whole  hospital,” revealed Thomas Eriksson. However, the Danish team is looking even further ahead and would like soon to be able to install the system at other hospitals in Denmark and then abroad. “The more information there is and the greater the number of people they can talk to, the better the patients will feel,” argues the Make CEO.

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