How Has Social Media Influenced the Healthcare Industry?

Social media and other interactive online applications are dynamic and constantly evolving dimensions in modern society. These applications often cross public and private domains, inextricably linking both professional and personal lives.

“The aspect of healthcare can be a very personal and private issue for some people causing severe contrast with the increasingly public world of digital and social media”. 

This evidently then creates both positives and negatives surrounding the topic of social media and the healthcare industry.

Firstly looking at the negatives, more and more patients are turning to the internet and their smartphones to find out about their health, obviously coming at a cheaper price but unfortunately it can also be very misleading. Social media is known for its influential powers and patients could be easily convinced that they have the ailments of others even if this is not the case.

A new study in the US (Media and Communications Group, 2014) surveyed 8,600 adults and found that 90 per cent of 18-24 year-olds surveyed said they would trust medical information shared by people on their social media networks, which is worrying when our healthcare providers spend so long studying to get the knowledge to diagnose their patients. 19 per cent of smartphone users have a health app on their phone. Also shockingly over 50 per cent of patients studied where happy with their healthcare provider seeking information about their condition online.

Luckily healthcare providers have also spotted the dangers associated with the link and the HSE has developed a Social and Digital Media Policy and Guideline for Employees, and has also developed guidelines for health services who would like to set up a Facebook, Twitter or other social media page for their service.

Like most digital associations however there are also many positives associated with healthcare and the digital world. The top ten diseases for which patients were most likely to use smartphones were found to be as follows: Cystic fibrosis, growth hormone deficiency; acne; ADD/ADHD; hepatitis C; migraine; Crohn’s disease; chronic kidney disease; generalised anxiety disorder and bipolar disorder. Of these diseases the majority are chronic and so having the support of others on social media and knowing that there are others out there with the same condition can be a great help.

The HSE also uses Facebook to support people using some of their services such as the quit smoking services, little things mental health campaign, teen mums; a support community for new teen mums and a drugs, alcohol and HIV support group.

While the link between social media and health care can provide many benefits as a support tool,

“The use of the digital world in other aspects of healthcare is an area that should be explored with caution; it requires appropriate education and consideration to ensure a professional approach to its use.”

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