Social Media & Consumer Health Issues: Impact, Pros & Cons

Instructor: Patricia Jankowski

Patricia has a BSChE. She's an experienced registered nurse who has worked in various acute care areas as well as in legal nurse consulting.

The use of the Internet and of social media has become almost universal, and both patients and providers often use these tools in healthcare. This lesson is about the impact of social media on health issues and the pros and cons of its usage.

I Got My Medical Degree on Google!

To become a doctor in the U.S.A., it takes four years of undergraduate college study and four years of medical school. Then, there's the year of internship in a hospital, followed by the residency, accounting for at least two or three more years of rigorous, stressful training. There may also be a fellowship...and plenty of school debt, too! And then, after all that, the doctor is still new at his job.

So, can you even begin to imagine the frustration of a doctor with ten years of experience when a patient walks into his office and says, ''Well, doc, I read on Google that you should do an MRI of my aorta because I'm over fifty now and I've noticed that my heart has been pounding lately!''

Such is sometimes the impact of the Internet and social media on the practice of medicine. But this impact can also be a good thing, so the experienced doctor will probably grin and bear his patient's silly behavior. In this lesson, we'll examine this impact, and the pros and cons of social media in healthcare.

Image of doctor and patients

Who Is Using Social Media In Healthcare?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines social media as ''forms of electronic communication (such as websites for social networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content.'' So, in the field of healthcare, who uses social media? The answer is, just about everyone.

The Patients

People are social creatures, and seldom does anyone want to face a health issue alone. As a result, patients search for a sense of community with peers when making healthcare decisions. They want to hear about the experiences that other patients with the same conditions have had, and how they dealt with the issue. Statistics on social media use have shown that 32% of users in the U.S. post about the health experiences of their friends and family, according to PwC. The Pew Research Center on Internet and Technology also states that of the 74% of Internet users who also use social media, 80% are searching for health-related information of some kind. They may be looking for treatment options and outcomes, for reviews of specific practitioners, or for general information about how a specific disease is treated.

The Providers And Marketers

With the vast amounts of medical information that are available and the dynamic nature of medical knowledge, doctors and other healthcare providers need the speed and efficiency of the internet to share this knowledge. Because of this, many physicians use social media and the Internet to get information on drugs, medical technologies and devices, and the latest treatment protocols. Many doctors and hospitals also have a social media page that gives information about their location, hours, services, specialties, and what insurance is accepted.

There's an App For That!

Mobile healthcare software applications, or ''apps,'' are skyrocketing in popularity. You can keep track of how many steps you take in a day and how many calories were burned with a little device on your wrist! In the year 2015 alone, the profits from mobile healthcare apps amounted to $392 million.

The Pros Of Social Media In Healthcare

Social media and the Internet can be great tools in healthcare. Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, more emphasis is being placed on the prevention of illness, and the responsibility to stay healthy has shifted toward the patient. Statistics reported in 2013 revealed that 75 percent of healthcare costs come from illnesses that are largely preventable, like obesity, high cholesterol, and hypertension. A great deal of health education can be done on social media, and it's convenient because patients can get access to this without even leaving home.

Healthcare facilities can also use the Internet and social media to do surveys and collect data from patient populations. Mayo Clinic uses social media and Internet networking to collect members of groups that will be used in its clinical trials. Many hospitals also use social media to help them hire staff.

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