Feature article

How social media can influence patients and the health care community

It seems that social media has begun influencing more and more of our lives and opinions since its conception. Some generations are enjoying new technology that wasn't around or was less efficient when they were kids while others are taking advantage of what they've always had. In fact, a recent survey showed that about two-thirds of consumers get at least some of their news through social media, though just over half expect the news to be inaccurate.1 Lately, social media has also impacted how a patient views their healthcare and medicines, due to reviews from other patients and how healthcare practices present themselves.

Social patients

Social media savvy patients can influence prospective ones both positively and negatively. On the one hand, they may write a positive review of the facility, secretaries, nurses and doctors which may increase the likelihood of their friends finding care at the same place.2 On the other hand, the review could be negative and reflect poorly on the healthcare personnel and environment. In 2011, it was estimated that 44% of internet users look up information about doctors and other health professionals.3 Social media reviews can influence the decision to make an appointment, or a follow-up appointment depending on the patient's own experience.

Patients with mental or physical health conditions can also find support groups or others with the same conditions. These support groups have been found to help those with serious mental illness by providing support and hope from others who have improved.4 Peers can also provide feedback about a treatment that worked for them or side effects that they experienced. However, it is important that patients understand that the information found on social media may not be one hundred percent accurate. One way to counteract this is for healthcare providers to become active themselves on social media websites.

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Social healthcare

Some healthcare institutions have already taken to the web to help improve marketing and to communicate to patients and other facilities. Healthcare teams are appearing on the traditional social media sites as well as some unconventional sites, like blogging websites and message boards.

Social media can be used fairly easily for marketing healthcare services. Of course, companies can advertise services offered and awards received. However, healthcare professionals can also market their services in other ways just by communicating with patients and communicating information. Researchers can post recent research, share reviews, and provide feedback on relevant information.5,6 Patients may then follow a page if they like what they see and be reminded of upcoming appointments or those that need to be scheduled.

Similarly, social media can be useful to monitor illness or even competitors.6 People tend to post if they have been sick, especially if they have been for a long time. Researchers are looking into using social media posts to monitor influenza and predict new outbreaks.7 They can compile the information by following different tags, such as "flu". This method is still being researched. Additionally, social media may provide a way to compare how competitors are doing and patient reactions to changes.6

Finally, social media may promote engagement in training or education. Newer training programs sometimes include a tag for students to use in social media posts.6 This helps ensure that there is a space for questions to be asked even if the training is not in a classroom setting. These tags also help engage students in the conversations and encourage interaction with other students who are learning the same thing.

Social media has a variety of uses for both patients and personnel that can affect a practice in a positive way. Patients can find reviews of physicians that they are considering seeing and find support for different conditions they have. Meanwhile, healthcare providers can market to those same patient and conduct research about trends in different areas of the world. Trainers and professors may be able to engage their students using social media tags, while also connecting them with students in similar situations. Overall, social media provides a way to shape the views of its users.

References

1. Katerina Eva Matsa and Elisa Shearer. "News Use Across Social Media Platforms 2018: Most Americans continue to get news on social media, even though many have concerns about its accuracy." Pew Research Center. 10 September 2018. Web. 12 February 2019. <http://www.journalism.org/2018/09/10/news-use-across-social-media-platforms-2018/>.

2. Andrew Arnold. "How Social Media Usage Affects Doctor to Patient Relationships." Forbes. 7 November 2018. Web. 11 February 2019. <https://www.forbes.com/sites/andrewarnold/2018/11/07/how-social-media-usage-affects-doctor-to-patient-relationships/#2e0891965d3c>.

3. Susannah Fox. "Health Topics." Pew Research Center. 1 February 2011. Web. 13 February 2019. <http://www.pewinternet.org/2011/02/01/health-topics-3/>.

4. J. A. Naslund, et al. "The future of mental health care: peer-to-peer support and social media." 8 January 2016. Web. 13 February 2019. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4830464/>.

5. Andrew Arnold. "Can Social Media Have A Positive Impact on Global Healthcare?" Forbes. 5 June 2018. Web. 11 February 2019. <https://www.forbes.com/sites/andrewarnold/2018/06/05/can-social-media-have-a-positive-impact-on-global-healthcare/#56fe6eb318a0>.

6. Jeff Parke. "Take two and Tweet me in the Morning: How Social Media is Reshaping Health Care." Applied Clinical Trials. 11 June 2018. Web. 11 February 2019. <http://www.appliedclinicaltrialsonline.com/take-two-and-tweet-me-morning-how-social-media-reshaping-health-care>.

7. "Social media data could transform public health, new book says." University of Colorado - Boulder: College of Media, Communication and Information. 9 November 2017. Web. 13 February 2019. <https://www.colorado.edu/cmci/2017/11/09/social-media-data-could-transform-public-health-new-book-says>.

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