How Social Media is Shaping Today’s Healthcare Environment

After reading Jose Van Dijck’s The Culture of Connectivity, I wanted to explore some of the social media platforms surveyed by Van Dijck, under the lens of healthcare.

Healthcare social media has been a slowly evolving concept and idea. Many health professionals are, rightly so, concerned with patient privacy, HIPAA, and the idea of their thoughts and ideas being contrived as medical advice. This concern has led many clinicians to be late adopters of social media.  Lines are also blurred with doctor and patient relationships with the introduction of social media.

Over the past two to three years the veil has really been lifted on social media as a tool to propel healthcare. Advocates, patients, families, and clinicians are rallying within social media platforms to find cures for rare diseases, get support, pressure legislators to fund research, and to generally form bonds amongst people experiencing similar medical situations.

I have found that each platform serves a unique need when it comes to healthcare. From patient and family communication, to sharing of content from scholarly publications amongst providers, to image sharing on sites geared towards both consumers and clinicians, healthcare social media is fulfilling many needs, and breaking down silos which have existed institutionally for decades.  I will explore each of the platforms and the way healthcare social media is playing out on each of these platforms.

Facebook

A quick survey across Facebook will yield several community pages geared towards updating families and friends of individuals who are undergoing treatment. Social media has enabled many families and patients, who feel very isolated due to rigorous treatment schedules and limited time to update family members, to feel connected and supported. Facebook has been an important tool in connecting patients. There are countless stories of how connecting on Facebook has unearthed resources for a patient, or in one case, helped a mother who had no idea her daughter had optical cancer, to discover, treat, and save her daughter’s life.

Twitter

Twitter has been a progressive tool in breaking down institutional walls. Thought leaders have emerged and clinicians in specific fields have gathered around hashtags linking community members, research, and news regarding specific fields. Third party tools like Hootsuite have allowed users to follow along with scheduled chats and interact in real time with others interested in that same topic. Other third party tools, such as Symplur, have sought to categorize, rank, and bring together people and topics. Symplur has a dedicated Healthcare Hashtag Project, which compiles topics, top tweets, top users, and catalogs the times and dates of the dedicated chats. It also ranks Twitter hashtags and measures volume and number of Twitter users to rank their popularity.

Blogs

Although not part of Van Dicjk’s The Culture of Connectivity analysis, I feel it is a vital area that has allowed healthcare social media to really flourish. Leading physician bloggers like KevinMD, and Dr. V., have paved the way for physicians to dip their toes in social media beyond sharing medical content. Physician bloggers take to blogging platforms to come out from behind the purely clinical and medical content to show the real, vulnerable, and human side of medicine. Blogs have allowed clinicians to show how terminally ill patients, or infant loss truly impact their own lives. In a celebrity-obsessed culture, these blogs have given a voice to healthcare professionals. Instead of relying only on what celebrities like Jenny McCarthy have to say about vaccines based on her singular, personal experience, parents and caregivers can seek out the thoughts and ideas of those who are developing vaccines and the research and trials that have helped to develop the guidelines for administering these vaccines.

Have you seen changes to healthcare social media in the past 2-3 years? What areas do you think have grown the most?

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