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Social Connectedness & Asynchronous Secure Messaging

· Kim Tucker,

An Unexpected Benefit

Think about what happens to most of you at work – you spend a portion of your day in social conversations with your co-workers. You talk about family, sports, pets, world news, school, etc. Most direct care providers are very social people – during my years as an emergency department nurse, I built strong friendships that are still active today, almost 25 years later. But a few years back when I was doing per-diem work as medical-surgical RN, I rarely saw any of my co-workers due to physical layout of the unit and decentralization of supplies. I still remember how the isolation was unnerving. There was no one readily available to answer questions or to brainstorm about a patient’s condition and interrupting by calling them was simply not done unless it was a very urgent need. Besides, I didn’t get a chance to know any of the other staff members since we rarely saw each other except when getting medication from the automated dispensing cabinet.

Now, I know you are wondering what this story has to do with secure messaging. Well, during this past week, I have been knee deep in an analysis of over 65,000 secure text messages between care team members. And a very interesting pattern emerged – in addition to messages related to workflow and patient care needs, there were running conversations especially among those care team members who work remotely such as phlebotomists and respiratory therapists. These individuals usually are at a significant physical distance from “their” department home base and rarely see or speak to their coworkers during their shifts. They are constantly on the go – from patient to patient for several hours at a stretch without any form of social connectedness to their departments or colleagues.

With the advent of asynchronous secure texting, there is suddenly a way to connect with colleagues that did not interfere with patient care activities. Conversations were being held asynchronously – quick social messages back and forth over extended period of time.

But why should we care about clinicians’ social connectedness in the workplace – aren’t they supposed to take care of patients? Well, yes, however, they also need to care for themselves. Research has shown a clear and causal impact of social relationships on both mental and physical health1. Even more concerning, the number of Americans who claim to have no close friends is now one in four!2 The workplace is a prime location for developing social connectedness, yet social isolation at work is increasing.3 Perhaps technology can help those who care for others feel more connected themselves.

It will be interesting to delve more deeply into the texting data to see if there is more to be learned but for today a question: Do you believe that social connectedness in the workplace is important and if so, can technology help connect us?

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