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The Value of Using Digital Tools to Extend the Impact of Your Work

By IHI Open School | Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Social media may not necessarily be another topic in your curriculum, but it is something we all need to learn about. Why add another subject to the long list that clinicians, administrators, researchers, and volunteers need to learn? Because social media really is not some invention or passing trend. It is quite simply an evolution in the way that we communicate.


My favorite definition of social media:


"Internet- and mobile-based tools for sharing and discussing ideas among humans." (Wikipedia, 2009) 


The reason I gravitate to this definition is that it is easy to grasp without being intimidating. Anyone can feel they understand what social media does after reading it. Too often it becomes a catch-all for meaning a website, Twitter, and Facebook. But what really excites me is the use of digital tools for research, collaboration, and knowledge sharing, and that is something everyone involved in health care can be inspired by. 


For many students, it may seem obvious that we need to use digital tools. Could the Institute for Healthcare Improvement’s Open School have grown as fast as it did if it was based solely on printed material and in-person meetings? I highly doubt it. Many of us have benefited from the free online courses for students and the access to other valuable resources created by others.


Simply put, if you learn digital tools for sharing, you can help extend your efforts to aid others and participate in the acceleration of knowledge. 


Every student has to work hard in school; some even choose to run student groups and work in others ways, too. All of this takes effort. Sometimes it is assignments, putting together a conference, or getting involved in a quality improvement initiative at a local hospital. No matter the subject or output, when only those that have a physical copy or can attend in person benefit, only part of the true value is captured. However, with the use of some very basic digital tools, many more can benefit from the lessons you experience and the resources you create. 


My filing cabinet and shelf are full of assignments, papers, books, and conference manuals. Unfortunately, I have limited time and rarely have the opportunity to go back and use them. But by using sites like LinkedIn (a professional networking site) or ResearchGate (a networking site and online community for researchers), I can stay in touch with people I met at some of these conferences. (Best of all, their contact information stays up to date, unlike the business card in my drawer!)


Another example: When students at the University of Toronto IHI Open School Chapter (my school) had a guest speaker, I helped to record it for students who could not make it to the event, and for anyone who might be searching online to hear about that topic. There are many other examples, too, from using online research networks, to publishing literature reviews or responses, to accessing newly released reports.


Despite being busy, I'd highly suggest that you and your Open School IHI Chapter consider how you can use digital tools. That way, we can all learn from each other — and the hard work and time we put in will go even further. 


- Robert Fraser, MN, RN, Author of The Nurse's Social Media Advantage

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