Finally, some good news about social media

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Emily Mongan
Emily Mongan

PHILADELPHIA — McKnight's resident millennial here reporting live from The City of Brotherly Love with some exciting news: Despite all the social horror media stories we've seen cycle through the news recently, it's not all that bad for long-term care.

In fact, if handled correctly and monitored diligently, using social media can help engage your residents, their families, employees and prospective customers. That was the message shared by experts from consulting firm Harmony Healthcare International on Sunday during their “Engage Don't Just Age!” session at the American College of Health Care Administrators 50th Annual Convocation and Exposition in Philadelphia.

Between April 2009 and May 2010, social media use among adults over age 65 grew 100%, and those numbers have likely skyrocketed even more in recent years, said Jon Di Gesu, vice president of marketing at Harmony.

“It informs, it can be used as a conversation,” Di Gesu said. “It's a total shift in the way we communicate.”

So what can late-to-the-party providers do to jump on the social media bandwagon?

Social media applications like Facetime and Skype can be used to connect residents with family and friends, or learn how to surf the internet for research or reading the news. Learning new things at least once a week, like how to operate an iPad or use Google, is crucial for people to all ages to maintain cognitive abilities, Di Gesu said. And studies have shown that seniors who use the internet have up to a 20% decrease in depressive symptoms.

Setting up classes in iPad or internet use is also a prime opportunity to welcome in groups of high school students, scouting troops and religious organizations as volunteers.

iPads and websites also provide a rich assortment of apps that can be used by therapists to help residents improve their cognitive, communication, motor skills, diabetes symptoms and vision, shared Elisa Bovee, senior vice president of operations at Harmony.

And updating your facility's social media accounts, blogs and websites on a weekly -- if not daily basis — can help reel in potential clients, Bovee said.

“There's an elephant in the room,” Bovee said. “[Social media] isn't going away. It's either going to help us or it's going to hurt us.”

But there's another elephant in the room, one that McKnight's readers will understand all too well. That's the threat that an employee will take advantage of the immediacy that social media providers, and posts an inappropriate photo or a video to a social networking platform.

There's no doubt, Bovee said, that photos of residents showering, on the toilet, or in other vulnerable situations are never permissible. But what about photos posted to the facility's facebook of residents enjoying an ice cream social? Or a worker “friending” a resident's family on Facebook that they've grown particularly close with?

That's where there's some gray area, one that needs to be addressed through close social media monitoring, obtaining consent from residents' families, and clear guidelines that stress that all staff members, residents and families can be held rand legally accountable for the content they post online.

“Having that all clearly spelled out allows everyone to stay safe,” Bovee said.

With guidelines set in place, and workers thoroughly educated about the legal risk and privacy issues associated with any social media use, providers should be poised and ready to reap the benefits that social media can offer. And that is good news worth sharing.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The 50th Annual ACHCA Convocation and Exposition continues through Wednesday in Philadelphia.

Follow McKnight's Staff Writer Emily Mongan @emmongan.


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McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.