Social media and global healthcare.

There really isn’t an area where social media hasn’t had an impact. People use social media to share opinions, seek information, and share stories about their experiences. Healthcare hasn’t been excluded from this in any way. In fact, 60% of doctors see social media as an avenue for delivering better healthcare to patients. Of course, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t concerns. For instance, the ways that people choose to use Facebook can lead to negative outcomes.

Still, the impact social media is having and stands to have on global healthcare is a topic worth exploring as there are significant benefits and drawbacks it can cast on both patients and medical practitioners.

Some millennials are ditching doctor visits in favor of social media

While Millennials are highly focused on healthy living, 93% of them aren’t scheduling appointments with doctors for preventative healthcare. Instead, they are making use of urgent care when they become ill. For millennials, this approach fits their cost-conscious, convenience-seeking lifestyles. The transparent costs of medical care also appeals to this often cash strapped and uninsured generation as well.

Millennials aren’t just seeking on demand treatment. They’re also seeking on demand healthcare advice and support. Many are finding this through social media. For them, social media is a place to find advice from peers who may be experiencing the same  health related concerns. They also seek out advice on making lifestyle changes and solutions to healthcare problems they may be having.

For example, a millennial concerned about their snoring may seek out blogs, or ask for advice from members of their social media communities. They might seek to alleviate concerns about snoring related health conditions such as sleep apnea, or to read blog posts about the effectiveness of various treatments for snoring.

While social media can be an on demand source of information, there are also concerns. For example, is the information up to date and accurate? Are millennials (or any other generation) qualified to discern good information from bad. Finally, where is the accountability? This is concerning as a study showed that of 20 of the most shared Facebook posts referencing cancer, more than half contained information that had been refuted by healthcare professionals.

Healthcare providers actively use social media as a research tool

88% of physicians and other healthcare providers use social media and the internet to research medical devices, pharmaceutical information, and biotech data. Just like professionals in other fields, doctors can use social media as a tool to reach out to other specialists. They can explore the social media pages of pharmaceutical companies and device manufacturers. They can even follow the blogs of other practitioners to learn more about their experiences.

Social media can also be employed as a research tool in the area of public health. For example, researchers have used social media to track and forecast influenza outbreaks. With so much publicly available information about various diseases and other public health concerns, there is huge potential to use social media as a data mining source. Social media can even be used to track public opinions such as those expressed by anti-vaxxers.

Most importantly, public health agencies and professionals can act on this information. For example, if they are aware of an impending outbreak of an illness, they can plan for supplies and service providers to be available. They can also direct appropriate educational research to counteract the impact of incorrect medical advice and information. Because of the global nature of social media, the application of this information can be used worldwide.

Social media is becoming a marketing and communications tool for providers

Forty-one percent of people have indicated that information they get from social media impacts their healthcare decisions. This include the choice of hospitals and treatment centers. As a result, physicians, pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, even health insurance providers are using social media for the following:

  • Publishing recent research.
  • Educating healthcare consumers
  • Directing consumers to their websites and landing pages for up-to-date information.
  • Marketing innovative services such as blockchain-based financial solutions to other healthcare companies.
  • Posting case information, photos and outcomes (with permission).
  • Sharing patient reviews and testimonials.
  • Providing customer support and offering healthcare advice.

Of course, all of this engagement must be done while also adhering to privacy regulations, and with a concern for liability. For example, an optometrist may be free to offer general advice on selecting colored contact lenses without much concern. However, if someone contacts them on a public forum describing an eye infection then they may need to thread a bit more carefully.

This leads to another area of opportunity and concern. This is the development of social media relationships between patients and their healthcare providers. On one hand, this provides an avenue that is familiar and comfortable for many people to interact with their doctors. On the other hand, there is a real ethical concern that physicians who have social media relationships with consumers may access private information that is not intended for them. There’s also a concern about patient confidentiality in terms of what other people may be able to access.

While there are concerns about privacy and the spread of untruthful information, social media can be used by those in all areas of the healthcare industry for a variety of purposes. It is a tool for marketing, education, and providing needed services to various communities.

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