With as often as we hear about the negative side of social media, it can be easy to forget that Facebook, Twitter, and other social platforms are also improving people’s lives in concrete, measurable ways.
One particularly promising area? Healthcare.
From helping chronically ill people feel less isolated, to correcting the spread of diagnostic misinformation, to helping patients get the care they need faster, social media can offer a host of benefits to patients and the healthcare professionals treating them.
So how can doctors, nurses, hospital administrators, public health advocates, and others in this space harness the potential of social media? Here are just a few ways to do so.
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Sharing public health information and correcting misinformation
Any healthcare professional who’s been active on social media has doubtless seen some of the totally unfounded medical claims that circulate online.
In fact, according to the National Institutes of Health, eight out of 10 internet users search for health information online. Of those, 74% use social media to search for health information.
While some of this misinformation is harmless, much of it actually does real harm.
The backlash against vaccinations, which has been fueled in huge part by misinformation shared online, is the most obvious example, but there are plenty of others. Cardiologists, for example, are hearing from many patients that they do not want to take statins, a cholesterol-lowering drug that has been decried as dangerous by celebrities and politicians—but not by doctors.
And just like social media can be a quick and effective way to spread bad health information, it can also be a quick and effective way to spread scientifically-proven, correct health information. Some doctors create short videos in which they debunk popular health myths. Some summarize the latest scientific findings in plain language, linking to the journal in which the study or research appeared.
Major organizations like the World Health Organization post health facts regularly, especially when there’s a relevant world event. While most healthcare professionals won’t have nearly the reach of the WHO, they can still be active leaders in helping fight the spread of health misinformation online.
Helping chronically ill patients develop social supports
Aside from the countless medical difficulties that chronically ill people must go through, the isolation that these illnesses can cause can be deeply debilitating—especially for young people.
For many of these patients, social media platforms can be a truly life-changing technology. Similar to the way chronically ill people have congregated online on message boards and forums, today, many of these patients are finding Facebook groups for people with their same disease, or connecting with friends that they aren’t able to get together with on Instagram.
Healthcare professionals who care for these individuals have a great opportunity to help them develop those social supports by staying aware of active social media groups, sharing research on the power of social media for social support, and generally promoting responsible social media use for patients who express interest.
Spreading awareness about new and/or innovative healthcare solutions
From the operating room to the operations department, the healthcare space has been changing drastically over the past 15 years thanks to technology.
Robotic surgeries. Incredibly accurate diagnostic tests. New cancer therapies.
But there are also developments like telehealth, for example, which connects patients with specialists through a secure video conference, which has made it easier for rural communities to access specialized healthcare. Organizations like Better Help connect people with licensed counselors for online mental health counseling services.
These innovations aren’t worth much if the people who need them aren’t aware they exist. And in healthcare, where the patient-provider model hasn’t changed greatly in decades—in general, if you’re sick, you go to a doctor’s office—it’s crucial that patients be made aware of new options like video therapy sessions, or telehealth sessions with an out-of-state specialist.
If your office or hospital offers these things, social media can be a highly effective way to let patients and potential patients know about them.
Social media’s ill effects are well-documented and important to stay aware of. However, it’s just as important to realize that when used responsibly, social media can have highly beneficial applications for healthcare providers and the people they’re trying to help.
Date: May 29, 2019