Social Media: It Doesn't Have to Hurt

Studies have shown that it takes 17 years on average for research findings to reach the people who may benefit from them. Science takes time, and so does the regulatory process, drug development and getting to approved health care guidelines that direct doctors on how to treat and care for their patients. But if you are in pain, or even worse if your child is in pain, it seems impossible to wait that long for answers.

So you go to the Internet. You “Google it.” “Children in pain.” “Vaccinations and kids.” “Stomach aches and kids.” You can get lots of information, but how do you know it is trusted information?

Frustrated by this concern and armed with evidence-based data on how to keep children out of pain when they get shots, during medical procedures or if they have chronic pain, Canadian pediatric pain researcher Christine Chambers, Ph.D. is interested in changing this scenario.

Chambers in collaboration with celebrity mommy blogger, Erica Ehm, founder of an online parenting magazine, with a reach of five million viewers, are trying a first-of-its-kind research experiment. Chambers and Ehm are testing whether fast-tracking research straight to parents through blogs will not only start a conversation, but also spur action among parents to do something about their child’s pain.

“It’s one thing to actually put information out there,” Chambers says, “It’s another thing to know whether parents actually learn, will they use it, is it helpful.”

Chambers has orchestrated a major event on Monday, Sept. 21st, in Halifax, Nova Scotia being webcast worldwide to launch this year-long experiment and to encourage a discussion about social media, science and health. Anyone can join the conversation and ask questions during the event on Twitter using #itdoesnthavetohurt. I am lucky enough to be there to moderate this discussion with those in the room and from around the world online—from Australia, South Africa, Qatar and Ireland, to name a few.

Chambers is a clinical psychologist, professor of pediatrics, psychology and neuroscience at Dalhousie University and the IWK Health Centre. She’s also a mother of four young children. No question that she is busy. But she got to this point because she took the leap so many researchers are reluctant to do and got engaged with social media.

It all started with Twitter.

About three years ago Burness taught Christine about social media—she was a Mayday Pain & Society Fellow supported by The Mayday Fund, a foundation dedicated to alleviating human suffering. Like so many researchers, she used Facebook at the time, but wouldn’t touch Twitter and Instagram was not even a “twinkle in her eye.” She said, “It all seems like a waste of time.”

But from the time she signed up for her Twitter account, she believes her life as researcher and advocate for pain changed entirely. Here she tells about her own transformation:

The story goes like this:

She started tweeting about kids and pain.

She started following lots of people she cared about, including reporters.

André Picard, a well known and respected health journalist at the Globe & Mail connected with Christine by retweeting her and publishing articles about her research. Radio and television followed.

She created a clever video to talk directly to parents about how they can reduce their child’s pain. She did it through the voice of a child.

It went viral on social media. Now about 150,000 views on YouTube.

In addition to the public attention, grant money came in.

And now she starts this unlikely collaboration—this hybrid of a campaign to raise awareness about health issues combined with documentation of its effectiveness – research. She is doing this with the help of the media, researchers, celebrities and most important, parents. She is a model of what the next generation of researchers may be… not only deeply focused on their research, but expanding their skills to learn to share their findings more actively through social media. For sure we know that Chambers’ smart phone never leaves her side (she tried to turn it off on vacation…).

For more information:

Visit the Mayday Fund