Do you remember the last time you took to the Internet to find an answer to a health concern? Maybe you woke up with an irritated eyelid and diagnosed yourself with viral conjunctivitis within three minutes of your Googling tangent. Remember immediately after that when you made an expensive emergency visit to your physician, and walked out after said physician simply removed a spec of sand or dust or pet hair from your eye? It’s okay, so do we. And according to a January 2014 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, so do 72% of U.S. internet users.
In 2015, technology—namely social networking—is unavoidable. We have traded in our weekday morning routine of catching up on the news via a freshly-printed newspaper for a quick Facebook browse or a gander at our updated Twitter feed in the 15-minute increments between alarm snoozes on our smartphones. And while the vast majority of businesses across the board have jumped onto the social media bandwagon for consumer or customer accessibility, the healthcare industry has been less than eager to embark on this technological integration. Why?
According to a 2015 article published by the American Physical Therapy Association, the integration of social networking into the healthcare industry raises pressing questions concerning privacy rights and liabilities. Because of the vulnerability that comes along with any sort of online presence, these are valid concerns. Is it possible, though, that the benefits of society’s (read: the world’s) access to accurate, credible health information via these social networking identities outweigh the risks? We believe that the answer to these questions is YES.
As of January 1st, 2014, 74% of adults actively engage in social media and networking sites, 73% of which regularly login to Facebook, 26% which Instagram daily, and 23% which actively Tweet (and the list goes on). Bearing these statistics in mind, we’d like to point out that there was an estimated 14,173,101 recorded visits to the ever popular WebMD site between January 1st and January 31st of 2015; this is an insurmountable demographic to neglect. Clearly demonstrating the demand by internet users for healthcare knowledge, the practice of social media networking by healthcare professionals not only grants access to knowledge of the healthcare industry, but significantly boosts the likelihood that the information received is both accurate and credible to the advice of a health professional. This not only means that people across the globe can have access to scientifically accurate information, but will even go so far as to allow them to personalize that information.
While access to proven health information would, indeed, be to the benefit of Internet users worldwide, accessibility alone is not guaranteed to produce the revelatory results which many healthcare establishments and professionals are so eager to meet. In fact, it’s not the receipt of viable health information, but the practice of physician-patient engagement which carries the potential to transform both the advice-seekers, and the healthcare industry overall.
It’s no surprise that Internet users–and people in general–tend to accept more health information when given the opportunity to participate in discussion. When said engagement is not practiced, says The World Health Organization, the treatment outcomes are likely to be suboptimal. This is especially true for those who suffer from chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes–a demographic which counted for 75% of all Americans as of 2013.
As these numbers continue to grow, it is becoming essential, now more than ever, for patients to feel actively included in the management of their health. And though there are risks involved, on behalf of both the medical establishment and the physician(s) themselves, the statics presented clearly indicate a need for the online presence of medical professionals, as well as proven (and perhaps monitored) online health resources.
With the incorporation of health best practices, and the education of health professionals on social media use in the workplace, the world may very well be standing on the horizon of an age where we are no longer told not to Google our symptoms.