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Perspectives on Social Media in Healthcare

By: Rosa Rios

Social media has become ubiquitous in recent years. Every day healthcare companies use social media to inform the public about new medical technology and healthcare services. Social media can help spread the word about healthcare products, services, and news, but it has also become an important tool for researchers, particularly around recruitment and dissemination of medical information.

Roger Knight, who is a digital marketing manager at the Institute of Public Health and Medicine and the Center for Behavioral Intervention Technology at Northwestern, explained that social media can be an effective recruiting tool for clinical research. Knight stated that in 2013, 65% of health policy researchers used social media to attract participants. Participant recruitment requires an “influencer” who is usually a leader that has access to and awareness of the targeted audience. The influencer fits the audience demographics and develops a good online relationship with followers.

Social media also helps to make information easily accessible. The Symplur Healthcare Hashtag Project lists healthcare conferences, health care chats, disease hashtags and more. Click on the link if you are interested in learning more about this project.

While social media can add value, it also has drawbacks. Even though health information can be found everywhere, not all the information is accurate. For example, symptoms of illnesses can be misinterpreted. This is why it is always important to ask a physician about individual health concerns. Doctors will be able to appropriately guide patients and interpret their symptoms to diagnose disease. Online health information is not a substitute for the patient-doctor relationship. Instead, social media can improve the patient-doctor relationship by enhancing communication and patient engagement. Social media can also help to empower patients with chronic diseases to take control of their illness.

Finally, the healthcare industry uses social media to educate and influence users. These tasks are not easy. The science of health communication is an excellent tool that helps to create targeted messages and persuade people to achieve health objectives.