Think for a minute about how this technology is shaping our societies. Many younger people now use Facebook and Twitter to get their news in short—sometimes very biased—tidbits from friends, politicians or bloggers with an ax to grind. It is well recognized that the “Arab Spring” would not have happened or been successful without the use of several types of social media. There are even allegations that the CIA was blindsided by the Egyptian uprising because the agency failed to follow developments on Twitter and YouTube. We’ve all seen it—anyone with a cell phone can now upload an event to YouTube, and the event is easily accessible worldwide.
Explore This IssueOctober 2012
Finding Other Patients
So how are our patients getting their health care information, and how do they use the Internet and social media? Susannah Fox wrote an article in 2011 for the Pew Research Center entitled “Peer-to-Peer Healthcare” (available at pewinternet.org/Reports/2011/P2PHealthcare.aspx) that looked specifically at how patients acquire their health information. It turns out that health care providers are the trusted source for diagnosis, recommended treatment options and medications regardless of the age or gender of the patient. But, most patients resort to family and friends for emotional support—and that support is frequently found online. Different types of social media have become the conduit for finding other like-minded patients and caregivers.
Finding patients with similar diseases or symptoms is greatly facilitated by search engines for the entire Internet. Pick your favorite rare disease, search for it with tags for support groups or resource, and you will be amazed at how fast you can find a relevant site. Some are restricted to patients and require registration, while others are free and open. If you want to get an idea of the number of these types of sites available, go to the Pharma and Healthcare Social Media Wiki (available at doseofdigital.com/healthcare-pharma-social-media-wiki) or supportgroups.com for a sampling. I lost count of the number of groups sponsored by patients, health care-oriented groups, pharmacies, hospitals, and so on when I reviewed these sites. As far as I can tell, no one has an exhaustive list.
Clearly, the idea that social media sites are a mechanism that can connect patients with similar problems is now well entrenched in health care, and it will only continue to expand.
Next time, I’ll explore how the industry is starting to utilize social media. (Hint: The platform essentially provides free, targeted advertising.)