The Road to Medicine X: Why I am Online

I am really excited this week. In just a few days, I will be joining a passionate group of patients, providers, and health IT experts. We’ll spend three days together on the Stanford campus for the 2013 Medicine X conference. This is my first Medicine X experience, but I know that many of the personalities that made the Partnership with Patients Summit such a powerful experience last year will be attending MedX.

I don’t know how many other mental health providers will be attending, but I don’t think that we’re the majority by a long shot. As I prepare to head out, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I got here. More and more psychologists are setting up websites, a small percentage of that group blog, but the number of psychologists who are active and engaged online is pretty small.

There are reasons for that–online is a big wide place, and as we’ve learned in the last year, privacy online may be more the Emperor’s new clothes than any kind of practical reality. Since confidentiality is one of the foundations of successful mental health relationships, it’s challenging to engage in a forum that doesn’t guarantee privacy. And I think often and carefully about confidentiality online, both my own and that of the people I interact with. I’ve tried to be clear in my social media policy about boundaries and privacy online.

But I think that another reason psychologists stay away from online spaces is that we aren’t sure what our interactions are going to be like. In our offices, the environment is controlled. We know the rules, we design the spaces, we clarify the expectations. There aren’t clear rules about engaging online yet. In the ethics seminar I attend each year, the expert has moved from saying, “Stay away from online.” to “We don’t have clear guidance about engaging online.” But I have been drawn in, over and over.

Here’s the truth: I like engaging online. Not for therapy–that’s not what I mean. I do therapy in my office. My role online is different. I am an advocate, an educator, and a student. I like participating in TweetChats or other interactive forums. I get to learn from stimulating experts all over the world–both patients and health care providers. I know that the psychoeducational information that I share is reaching a larger audience than just my own clients. [tbpquotable] I recognize that mental health stigma will persist as long as we keep acting as though mental health struggles are something to be ashamed of. [/tbpquotable]I know that I can’t fix all the suffering in the world, or erase the challenges people face in getting access to good mental health care. But I can be available to offer support, encouragement, and education to those that I connect with. Oh, and to be supported, encouraged, and educated in return.

Because that’s the best part of engaging online. If you are open to connecting with the diverse communities that exist, there is room for genuine two-way exchanges of support and knowledge. From peer to peer, patient t0 provider, provider to patient–the possibilities go on and on.

So, that’s why I’m online–and why I am so excited to be meeting hundreds of others who think like me! If you’re a provider, what are some of the reasons you are (or aren’t) engaging online? If you’re a patient, what types of education and support would be the most helpful to you?

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