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Using social media to share research results

Dalhousie University’s Christine Chambers explains how she’s using social media to help parents manage their children’s pain
September 30, 2015

By Malorie Bertrand

On September 21, Christine Chambers, a clinical psychologist and professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax, launched an online campaign, “It doesn’t have to hurt” (#itdoesnthavetohurt). The campaign is in partnership with the popular parenting blog, YummyMummyClub.ca and uses social media to share with parents her evidence-based information about pain management. Chambers’ work at the Centre for Pediatric Pain Research — partially funded by the Canada Foundation for Innovation — looks at developmental, psychological and social influences of pain in kids. 

CFI: How did the idea for this campaign come about?

Christine Chambers (CC): Through my recent experience as a parent, I realized that all the great research we have about how to help children with pain just isn’t making its way to parents. Currently, it takes 17 years for research findings to translate into improvements in clinical care.

I produced and launched a YouTube video in November 2013 with the Centre for Pediatric Pain Research that gave parents advice on how to help their children deal with pain from needles. We wanted to see if sharing our research-based knowledge through social media would better inform parents. The video has since garnered more than 145,000 views in over 120 countries.

With the success of the video, we decided to launch an entire social media campaign to further promote our research and encourage a two-way discussion between my team and parents. This time I decided to engage a partner, the YummyMummyClub.ca that has already established ways to reach and engage parents. The campaign kicked off with a panel discussion on September 21 in Halifax, and will include blogs, videos and the hashtag #itdoesnthavetohurt.

CFI: Why did you and your team choose social media to promote this campaign?

CC: Social media is a natural choice for me. As a parent, I use it all the time to get information and support on issues related to my children. Also, social media is free! As a researcher in a low-resource environment, it is an efficient way to get information out there. And anyone who can get online can access the content. I strongly believe that health research evidence should be made freely and easily available to the public — we shouldn’t be charging for it or selling it in books.

CFI: How will you know if you’ve had an impact?

CC: The biggest challenge is measuring whether this approach actually positively changes children’s pain management and prevention.

CFI: How will you do that?

CC: We are surveying and interviewing parents before and after this 12-month campaign to see if their awareness and use of proven pain-control methods with their children improves. At the end of the project, we will profile a few families who used the content from the campaign and explore how it impacted them and their children.

CFI: Why is this campaign important to you?

CC: For me, this campaign is fulfilling the reason I got into child health research in the first place — the potential to make a positive impact on the lives of children and their families. I didn’t get into research just to publish in journals and present my findings at conferences without it ever making a difference. It’s opened up an entirely new and exciting area of research for me, exploring how social media and partnerships such as the one we have established with YummyMummyClub.ca can be used to more effectively communicate research findings to the public. For parents and children, I hope this campaign will get the research they need right into their hands, so they can use it.

CFI: This is a really innovative approach for a researcher to take. Are there roadblocks?

CC: Our biggest challenge right now is trying to make sure we do this right, with limited resources. I’m especially concerned that we do a solid job with the research and evaluation side of this work. Another barrier is that I think, in traditional academia, there is still a stigma around the use of social media. It’s seen as silly or a waste of time. My use of social media and my increasing research focus on its use is still met with a lot of eye rolling. I have seen a shift over the last year, as hard core science journals like Nature and Cell have started to publish pieces on the role of social media in science.

CFI: Any pleasant surprises?

CC: What has been surprising to me is just how much external partners, companies and the public at large “get” this work and want to be a part of it. When we share the statistics that it takes an average of 17 years for research to make its way into practice, and that only a small percentage of it ever actually influences health care, people are shocked. They assume that they are benefitting from health research more often than they actually are. The public expects and wants good quality research-based information about their health, and I think they see social media as an easy place to find it.

CFI: Can you offer some advice to other researchers trying to better communicate their work, or to enrich it with social media?

CC: The power of partnerships. As researchers, our reach is limited, and it can quickly become a full-time job trying to communicate or use social media for dissemination. I do not recommend that every researcher create a Twitter or Facebook account. It’s a major commitment, and having only 13 followers is not going to help get your work out there. Instead, look to your institution or other groups to see if they can help spread the important research messages you have to share, like what I am doing with YummyMummyClub.ca and the other amazing organizations we have supporting this work.