Home > Healthcare, Marketing and Media > Healthcare Social Media: Healing or Hurting?

Healthcare Social Media: Healing or Hurting?

The Social Health Web

Social web sites are growing as a health care medium. They connect patients with each other and with care givers. Social media are a conduit for patients to share their health concerns and gain knowledge. But they may also be a rumor mill of misinformation.

So far the US healthcare system has been slow to adopt social media for the exchange of health information, leaving patients to find other sources.  Two recent studies show a growing gap between patients’ needs and hospitals’ delivery of a quality social health experience.

Hospitals Not Delivering

A new report by CSC shows US hospitals lag far behind hospitals in countries such as the Netherlands and the UK in the use of social media to deliver health information. According to the study, only 27% of urban hospitals and 10% of rural hospitals in the US deploy social media sites.

Yet according to a report by consulting firm PWC, patients use social sites like Facebook as an important source for health information. Of 1,024 consumers studied, 24% say they post health information on social media sites and 45% said they would use information from social media sites as justification for seeking a second opinion.

Health professionals should be alarmed by these findings. Facebook and Twitter take second guessing physicians’ medical recommendations to a new dimension.

Why anyone would use hundreds of Facebook friends as a sounding board for whether to have surgery is beyond me, but the evidence suggests that it’s happening with more frequency.  And with the ease and anonymity of internet publishing, anyone can present themselves as a medical expert.

Privacy Concerns Versus Information Sharing

Why don’t more hospitals use social media? Concerns about liability and patient privacy are the primary reason. Clearly, the freewheeling give and take of social media commentary interferes with the doctor-patient relationship.

But here’s the problem, patients will seek the information wherever they can find it. We humans are a curious sort. We pay no attention to our health until we get sick. Then we plumb the internet for any source we can find for as much information we can get.

Physicians often spend more time wading through patients’ questions about alternative treatments and self diagnoses than they do in actual treatment. The physician’s role as the sole source of medical information went out of fashion with Marcus Welby, M.D.

It’s a classic case of if you can’t lick ’em, join ’em. Why not be seen as the best source of medical information and clinical sharing? It’s unfortunate that aversion to risk prevents hospitals from using social media’s potential for healing by placing the patient at the center a continuum of care through social communities of physicians, case managers, family and friends.

What do you think? Are hospitals obligated to create social media sites and share health-related information with patient communities? Share your comments by clicking on “comments” at the top of the page.

Photo credit: Health in 30

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  3. Tim Horgan
    August 9, 2012 at 8:53 pm

    If by social media you mean patients sharing information with one another, then I firmly believe that it can really help people. I don’t believe it should be used as the definitive source for decisions like whether to have surgery or not, but it is very helpful in helping people learn how to deal with their disease or condition. The best source for learning how to cope with a serious condition is other patients, people who have been where you are.

    I was on the staff at PatientsLikeMe, a social media site for people with critical conditions, and saw this learning happen every day. People taught each other what questions to ask, where the best doctors are, how to deal with side-effects, when to be concerned and call a doctor, and many other practical, but important to quality of life, issues.

    /Tim Horgan

    • August 10, 2012 at 10:37 am

      Thanks for your comment Tim. Patients Like Me is a great site for chronic and critically ill patients to share information. I’d like to see more providers in the discussion.

  4. May 18, 2012 at 2:51 am

    I think social media in healthcare can help patients relieve stress.

  5. April 29, 2012 at 11:40 am

    I positively enjoyed this. Many thanks. I;ll keep coming back

  6. April 23, 2012 at 4:13 pm

    Ted, I couldn’t agree more. Recent research from comScore shows that health info is the number one search topic among mobile users. Become the resource your patients seek!

  7. Kathy Catoe
    April 22, 2012 at 11:39 am

    Ted, great article. I appreciate the stats as well. In March I attended South by Southwest and one session specifically pointed to the issue of posting healthcare information online. The legal issues were the center of the discussion.

  1. July 24, 2014 at 4:19 pm
  2. May 14, 2012 at 10:11 am
  3. April 25, 2012 at 9:53 am

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