social media healthcare

Social media’s application within the healthcare industry has been a primary focus of academic study over the last 3 years. Interestingly, if you conduct a search on Google Scholar of the broad phrase ‘social media’, a decent percentage of results focus on this particular area.

The existing academic research focuses on two key areas. Firstly, the use of social networking as a communications system, particularly during medical conferences, be it localised or global. One could argue that this use of social media could be applied to any industry, but it has seen rapid growth in healthcare, primarily being used to:

  • Help to promote event awareness and attendance
  • Increase attendee interaction and engagement
  • Enhance learning and knowledge sharing
  • Help to build a lasting community
  • Provide tools to measure attendee involvement and identify future speakers

It is the idea of instant knowledge sharing that has created the biggest shift in healthcare practice. There are countless medical journals available and these certainly were the primary vehicle for communicating developments in almost anything healthcare related. However, social can now be used to publish these changes in practice, investigation, diagnosis and management of disease in real time. You’ll see this notion referred to in journals as ‘peer-to-peer conversation, collaboration and community’. It’s an exciting concept.

The second application is slightly more contentious as it focuses on the user rather than a peer-to-peer emphasis. This concentrates on the user being able to access their medical records and information on dedicated health platforms. The emphasis here should be on dedicated platforms. Let’s stay clear of sharing medical information on Twitter and Facebook shall we? There certainly have been various attempts at creating these so called ‘Personal Health Application Platforms’ (PHAP). The argument here, as you would expect, is the openness of such platforms and the fact they would contain such confidential information. Take for example Google Health…

Social eyes on healthcare

Says it all really… Google released a blog explaining their Health ‘product’ was taken down because it “didn’t catch on the way we would have hoped”. What chance do you stand when Google are saying this?

The main argument is that these ‘open’ social networking platforms are underdeveloped in their privacy and security, but criticism insists “as the baby boomers age and develop chronic diseases, the gap between patients’ desire for information and physicians’ ability to provide it is likely to increase”. As of yet, however, no definitive platform has been / is being developed. Not to my knowledge anyway! Obviously, privacy can have a great impact of the success of such digital platforms given the potential sensitivity of patient information / content.

One interesting aspect of social media within healthcare is the ability for patients to build a profile of themselves and interact with users suffering with similar or related conditions. Such platforms as ‘PatientsLikeMe’ allow users to interact with each other regarding medical conditions, far from the doctor’s surgery – surely something that can heighten emotional well-being and personal empowerment? This service is subscription only. I’m a great believer of this use of social media within healthcare. For me, this is the absolute essence of social – engaging with like-minded individuals that without the existence of such a digital channel, would have been impossible (or at the very least, ‘hard’). If your Granny ever asks what this whole ‘TwitBook’ thing is about, the above is a good way to explain it…

Social networking platforms can add value to the healthcare industry, but due to the sensitive nature of certain aspects within the sector, precaution must be observed. I believe any developments in dedicated social platforms for this industry will be slow… but rest assured you will be hearing about them in the future as you can expect them to receive a great deal of media attention.