In this digital era, many patients make their health choices based upon the direction they receive from peers, colleagues and role models via social media. As a result, social media has altered the way in which patients approach their health and their expectations in clinical care. Over 70% of patients trust online doctor reviews just as much as a personal recommendation from a family member or friend. 52% of patients use health websites for research, whereas more than 75% of patients use a search engine before scheduling a doctor’s appointment. Physicians, too, have begun to use social media to their advantage as a professional networking tool, as a form of education for physicians, patients and students, and as a marketing tool. 24% of doctors take advantage of social media to perform medical research.
For example, the app Figure 1 is a popular global online platform that allows physicians to upload photos, focused on clinical issues, while maintaining patient confidentiality. The app lets healthcare professionals share photos of medical conditions for teaching and diagnostic purposes while ensuring safeguards to patient privacy and consent are adhered to. All images shared through the app have been scrubbed for identifying features such as faces, tattoos, or anything that may disclose a person’s identity. It allows verified physicians to view and discuss the cases being shared. As Figure 1 uses images as its primary medium it’s popularly been called the Instagram for doctors. Moreover, it carries the benefit of offering collaboration between medical professionals, including referrals and second opinions and serves as an educational tool for students and physicians.
Using common social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, healthcare professionals are able to share more about their practices and start-up companies to reach patients, investors and other caregivers. When it comes to communicating with companies, social media allows for a stronger reciprocal relationship between the user and the provider.
Social media also provides a useful tool for patients and how they approach health-related issues they’re more encouraged to openly discuss with their doctor, such as mental health. Over 40% of people say social media affects their choice of a doctor or hospital. Tumblr has become a well-regarded outlet for discussion-oriented blogging around mental health issues. Respected organizations and individuals like National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) or New York City’s first lady, Chirlane McCray, are engaging with Tumblr users discussing mental health topics through a dedicated space, making it easier for people to engage.
Despite the massive benefits of using social media as a positive educational tool, there are precautions that must be taken to protect patient confidentiality. The healthcare industry is built upon a strong patient-doctor relationship that is focused on maintaining confidentiality, autonomy and goodwill. Many companies and social platforms in the healthcare field have implemented privacy requirements and processes to ensure patient confidentiality is maintained.
Social media is still a relatively new advancement in healthcare, and thankfully it’s proven to be an effective tool in connecting physicians and patients, which means it will continue to grow and gain greater importance. With technology constantly evolving, social media is guaranteed to continue to change and how patients and medical professionals approach healthcare and how healthcare is delivered.