What Is Social Media’s Role in Health Care?

By Mary Alfieri, Guest Blogger

As social media use continues to rise, questions remain on its role in health care and the fine line between providing informed medical information and protecting patient privacy. Public health officials are still trying to identify the best way to do this, but in a big step forward this week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released two draft documents outlining best practices. They include information about presenting risk and benefit information and correcting misinformation surrounding prescription drugs and medical devices on social media. While there may be differing opinions on what best practices should be, the one thing everyone agrees on is that patients are tapping social media for their health concerns so the need for correct, educational materials is a must.

For many consumers of health care, social media use occurs in one of three ways:

  • Identifying a new symptom or health concern: Twitter and Facebook are often the first places someone goes if they experience frequent headaches or develop a strange rash. These platforms are being used as a forum to ask friends and followers for advice. In a recent survey, 90% of people 18-24 said they would trust medical information shared by others on their social networks.
  • Connecting with patients who share a disease state: Social media has opened the door for people that are experiencing the same symptoms or disease to connect with each other in a way that was previously impossible. Families no longer have to travel long distances to meet with someone fighting the same battle. Support groups now exist in the cloud, offering 24/7 access to the latest news, support and reassurance.
  • Empowering and engaging patients: Research shows that patients who take an active role in their health are less likely to be hospitalized and less likely to be treated for a chronic illness such as diabetes. Twitter, especially, allows for patients to stay up-to-date on the latest research, breakthroughs and clinical trials, and informs better and higher level conversations with their doctors.

Many doctors and nurses are still waiting for more structured guidelines before engaging on social media, but early adopters have seen great benefits in that it allows for timely, relevant information to be disseminated to patients who would turn to other sources on social otherwise.. It’s clear that social media still has a long way to come in health care, but one thing is for sure, it’s not going away.

Mary Alfieri is a Senior Account Executive with Racepoint Global.

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