3 Ways Social Media Revolutionized Medical Care

Opinion: Social media use is particularly high among patients with chronic diseases

60 percent of doctors say social media improves the quality of care delivered to patients
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Social media has inarguably taken the world by storm. From Twitter to Facebook, users worldwide are more connected now more than ever, and the healthcare industry has not been left out.

People are actively discussing health issues on social media, sharing experiences and engaging with healthcare professionals.

In 2012, Pricewaterhouse Cooper carried out a consumer survey of 1,060 U.S. adults, and the results—which were published in its aptly titled publication, Social Media “Likes” Healthcare—showed that one-third of U.S. consumers “are using the social space as a natural habitat for health discussions.”

Social media use is particularly high among patients with chronic diseases. A 2010 report by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that more than one-half of e-patients living with chronic diseases consume user-generated health information.

But what are the specific ways social media has impacted medical care, especially for patients? We’ll take a look at the three major ways below.

Relationships

Social media sites are insanely popular. Sites like Facebook house nearly one-fifth of the world’s population, and seven in 10 Americans use social media.

These numbers present infinite opportunities for patients to connect not only with professionals, but also with people going through similar experiences. Patients can reach out to medical professionals and maintain relationships with them outside of the consulting room.

Online communities for patients, such as Facebook groups, are so popular that they have become the subject of scholarly research. A 2011 study found 620 breast cancer groups on Facebook containing a total of 1,090,397 members. These groups are used to raise awareness and funds and provide support.

Natt Garun, technology editor for The Verge, shared her story of how a Facebook support group helped in her cancer struggle.

What’s more, 88 percent of doctors use social media to research pharmaceutical, biotech and medical devices, and 60 percent of doctors say social media improves the quality of care delivered to patients. Clearly, it’s a win-win for both doctors and patients.

Less widely known sites such as Doximity work like Facebook, allowing medical practitioners to connect and interact with each other.

Information

This is by far one of the most important ways social media has impacted health care. 80 percent of internet users are specifically searching for health information, and 40 percent of those are looking for a specific doctor or healthcare professional. This is interesting because 72 percent of all internet users are active social media users.

Of course, seeking health information on the internet presents its own problems: People are much more likely to wrongly self-diagnose or to access wrong information.

“The Internet is full of nonsense, hype, clickbait and ridiculous information about all kinds of health and medical elixirs and remedies that have no basis in fact,” says Art Caplan from the division of medical ethics at the School of Medicine at New York University. And he rightly poses the question: “If you think about it, how often do you actually see a doctor, an established scientist out there, trying to correct or engage the public with scientific, verified, evidence-based information?”

The bright side is that 60 percent of social media users are also more likely to trust social media posts by doctors over any other group. Leading healthcare organizations and companies have obviously gotten the message and are actively building their social presences, effectively reaching consumers where they hang out. More hospitals, professionals, and clinics are getting online and putting the right information where their patients can access them.

Take the approach of the New York Dynamic Neuromuscular Rehabilitation and Physical Therapy (NYDNRehab) clinic, an 18-year old private establishment specializing in rehabilitation and physical therapy. The clinic understands that a lot of misinformation exists online in the physical therapy niche, and traditionally, it would be difficult for patients to access quality information. This is why it has completely embraced social.