Tracking the flu by examining Google search trends. Patients with rare diseases creating Facebook groups to discuss resources and treatments available—not impeded by geography. Recruitment of patients for clinical trials. Monumental health campaigns significantly amplified and enriched by new media elements and engagement.
The list of proven benefits to exploring the use of new media, social media specifically, in healthcare is well documented. Hundreds, if not thousands, of case studies exist highlighting the successes of the tool in the healthcare setting. So, why are these channels and tools so underused and feared?
In Social Media: A Review and Tutorial of Applications in Medicine and Health Care, Grajales and colleagues argue that despite useful insights into social media usage in healthcare, the “collective understanding of how social media can be used in medical and healthcare remains fragmented.” The researchers lay out a plan to address the issues arising from social media usage in healthcare—governance, professionalism, privacy, confidentiality, and information.
What I found most interesting about the need for this well-designed plan, formal guidelines, and regulations, was the observations countering this thinking—one example was that past research had shown that privacy and confidentiality infringements were actually quite low. Less than 2% of 1,000 social media profiles of doctors reviewed in a study from the University of Florida found privacy or confidentiality breaches.
There are many examples in the literature to support that guidelines and policies do help to move social media adoption forward, but the mounting collection of case studies reveal that people are actually doing a pretty good job of adhering the same rules online that they follow offline.
So, do we really need pages and pages of regulations? Are we way over thinking this? Or, do we really need to build awareness and an understanding that the same rules you follow offline are important online—be nice, don’t talk about patients, don’t give direct medical advice, use good judgment.
I suspect in a very short amount of time, we will find that specific social media guidelines may fall to the wayside. Social media mores, norms and rules may actually be housed organically in institutional codes of conduct rather than living alone on a Web 2.0 island.