Is social media good for patient care?

Searching for healthcare information continues to play a key role for using the Internet.  According to The Pew Internet Project and California HealthCare Foundation study, “Eight-in-ten internet users look online for health information, making it the third most popular online pursuit … following email and using a search engine.”

However, while social media can help inform and empower consumers, the recent Bupa Health Pulse 2010 survey of international internet users advises caution in using healthcare sites:

Because the vast majority of the medical advice comes from other users or from unverified articles on the Internet, some physicians are concerned about the quality of the advice. Patient social networks do not generally moderate comments to verify accuracy, though they try to make clear whether content comes from medical professionals or fellow patients.

This research found that over half (58%) self diagnose and that only a quarter of people say they check where their online advice has come from.

While these statistics are frightening because of the risk of misdiagnosis and patients following improper medical advice, the question is how can healthcare providers, pharmaceuticals and others play a beneficial role in social media?

The Bupa research provides a couple of clues:

Setting aside self-diagnosis, the top two reasons for seeking health information on the web were — finding information on medicines and other patients’ experiences. Interestingly enough, interactive activities like posting a comment, social networking, and using Twitter are in the middle or at the bottom of the reasons for healthcare Internet use.

This should remind us of the very elemental nature of information seekers — what does the medicine do and what are the experiences of other patients?

As the Bupa report concludes:

the positive potential of the internet will only be fully realised if sufficient attention is paid to encouraging investment in the provision of high quality, accurate information that is tailored to specific population group needs, as well as to help people identify trustworthy information and make more effective use of social media.

Do you agree?

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