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Blog: How can healthcare providers benefit from social media?

Datum:26 januari 2017
How can healthcare providers benefit from social media?
How can healthcare providers benefit from social media?
Vinci-researcher Edin Smailhodzic

One of the first things we do when we are concerned with our health is to search online. A recent Pew Research study showed that 72% of the Internet users searched online for health information. In particular, users are relying on social media to exchange information and knowledge about medical issues between each other. In this way, social media are used as so called facilitated user networks. These networks enable the exchange of information and advice among patients. Such networks may disrupt healthcare, in particular with regard to chronic disease management. An example is Dlife, a network for diabetics and their families in which they can exchange information and care with each other. However, both researchers and practitioners know little about how social media could benefit or harm healthcare.

Social media interactions can offer patients emotional and informational support. Emotional support means that patients get support from peers who understand their anxiety and the difficulties they are faced with. Informational support is communication that provides useful or needed information for managing their condition such as providing advice on how to reduce pain or to self-manage their condition. However, my own research shows that that the emotional and informational support categories can be further split into sub-categories. For example, informational support could be communication to resolve a personal health condition or simply general knowledge about a disease. In addition to better understanding types of interactions, it is also important to understand that some of these interactions may enable the disruptive model of facilitated user networks.

For example, online communication with other knowledgeable patients online can substitute offline interactions with general practitioners. It facilitates a direct knowledge transfer to patients and it lowers the information asymmetry between patients and their traditional offline general practitioners. In some cases, patients even gather knowledge their general practitioners do not have. Furthermore, there is an increase in establishing social media networks that have a preventive character and focus mostly on doing exercises and dietary topics. This does not fit well with the traditional healthcare system, which generally comes into play after a health problem has become manifest.

Overall, healthcare providers should not neglect the use  of social media by patients. A possible consequence of this development is that healthcare users skip healthcare providers altogether and attempt to connect directly with specialists in their offline interactions as well. Therefore, healthcare providers should take these new interactions into account and adapt their normal role. They may adopt a new, facilitating role, guiding patients through the online maze of information and aiding them in developing an understanding of their condition. In this way, healthcare providers can respond proactively and refine their strategies, to preempt potentially harmful effects.

Want to know more? Don’t hesitate to contact the author of this post: Edin Smailhodzic