Is Health Social?

Health Is Social. That’s the name and premise of this blog. Some may think it refers to just social media in the context of healthcare. It’s actually a lot more: it’s about connecting the entire spectrum of what we call health.

Kathi Apostolidis, who blogs about health and social networking and is active in conversations about the future of healthcare, tweeted this:

My good man Dave deBronkart (@epatientdave), who passionately advocates for healthcare to pay more attention to the patient (you know, that thing that’s sorta kinda important?), asked me to expand on my claim that the entire proposition of healthcare is social. So here goes.


The word “social” often conjures up images of people-to-people relationships, gatherings or communication. One word that captures of the essence of these things: connection.

And it’s connection that finds its way throughout Healthcare, Life Sciences, Medicine, Nursing, Biology, Genetics…everything.

The self-assembling polymers that compose the cells that house the genes that produce the proteins that structure the mechanisms that run the systems which power our bodies – all of these things are involved in simple and complex social connections and relations.

Now, polymers nor cells nor neurons don’t have the kinds of consciousnesses needed to power our kind of Social.

But if you pan back from the level of molecules to the level of the cocktail party to the level of cities, you will find fractals of behavioral patterns demonstrating the pervading laws governing all things. (Even quantum mechanical behaviors involve their own kinds connectivity and fractal patterns.)

These patterns, these behaviors, are social. If they weren’t social – if they weren’t connecting – we wouldn’t be here.

We’ve already inched towards describing technology as social: Social Media currently the most famous.

For all of today’s current fascination with Social Media, however, the number of “non-social” uses of these technologies will far exceed the people-social uses.

For example, machines will tweet, follow each other and process millions of other tweets in seconds. They will be the true power tweeters.

Medical devices will communicate with each other; pull and push data into distant servers; and collate, assemble and overlay data to produce innovative images of the human body.

Naturally, people-social activities will feature prominently in Healthcare: they always have, always will.

More and more, patients will seek out connection with others. For information. For support. For clarification. For networking. For dignity.

So when we think about the effects of technology on healthcare – and the healthcare effects of technology – we need to probe beyond “social” in the sense that we commonly use the word. Social is a small part of a larger party, and the party is Connection.

So it is within and without your body: you have connections to your caregivers; your brain is connected to your spinal cord; your hip bone is connected to…well, you can see where this could go.

You have connections with your friends. You have financial connections to some bank account’s database. You have connections to a brand (a product, an idea, a religion). Servers are connected to other servers.

Connections of various kinds surround you. People-social is one frequency along a vast spectrum of connection.

And there are hybrid connections: you’re in a connecting relationship with your mobile device. Is it a conventionally social relationship? No – but today’s media are increasingly becoming the primary media through which people-social connections are made.

“Health is social” is simply a conceptual way to unify what appears to be a dauntingly disparate and intricate field of knowledge and activity.

Even in physician, nurse and researcher collaboration it’s the social connections which propel the care and science forward. And now we have non-social social technologies which will enable a renaissance in how providers and scientists discover and share and validate.

Are you getting to see what “health is social” means?





Holistic. Holy.

Our linguistic roots, like our evolutionary genesis, run deep. It’s rather remarkable that an ancient utterance representing wholeness has replicated and wound its way into our vernacular. Health. Heal. Wholeness.

A whole is a connecting of several parts.

A “healthy” body is a well-connected system of interacting systems composed of more interacting systems and so on down to the quark.

A disease is a disconnection. A neoplasm is a disconnection from the process of cellular death.

And yet: there is no clear separation between what we call health and not-health. Having a disease does not in itself make you “unhealthy”. You are not defined by the connections and disconnections transpiring within your body.

And this brings us to the intersection of Health and Social.


Those fractals I mentioned earlier?

Well, the cells in our body socialize and recruit and mobilize around objects. They connect and disconnect.

We do the same thing. It’s just that the complexity of our consciousness enables a seamless form of connecting we call Social. Consequently, it’s easy for us to overlook the less obvious socializing whirring deep within us and far across the universe.

If we limit our conception of Social to strictly people-social, we exclude an entire universe of connections upon which we utterly depend. It’s paradoxical, but we can’t be social creatures without being social with the non-human world.

As technologies infiltrate, expand, empower, embed into us, and fly farther beyond the grasp of the hands which make them, we will have to understand the profundity of the connections which surround us.

For no matter how distant Technology travels, we are now inextricably connected to it.

Healthcare is itself a technology. We’ve been lucky so far to have doctors and nurses and other human beings involved in this unique kind of technology.

And so if we wish to continue to embed the human elements within the technical ones, we will need a mindfulness of what Health and Social are fundamentally all about.

Technology is a way of thinking and perceiving and being. If we lose ourselves to a technological view of the world, we lose the human. We lose our health. We lose our wholeness.

The difference between a Jedi and a Sith lies in their views of the world: a Jedi sees it with human eyes; a Sith views it through technological lenses.

Imbuing our relationship with technologies, such as Healthcare, with a Social way of thinking and perceiving and being is how we can keep Healthcare human.

Health is social. Social is health.


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