Justin Jang | Masters of Bioscience Enterprise Intern
Social media and healthcare? Perhaps at first, we would presume that these two are incompatible: social media aims to accomplish greater transparency, openness, informality and creativity, while in healthcare we value confidentiality, privacy, formality and certainty. However, there is no arguing that social media has become an integral part of our daily lives, and thousands of patients and other healthcare consumers are using online health communities for support and health-related information. This is becoming more common not only because it is inconvenient and costly to rely on one-on-one bookings and appointments, but it’s overwhelmingly inefficient for both patients and healthcare providers. So, what should the healthcare system do about this? The answer is: modernise.
I set out to investigate the use of social media in healthcare, mostly looking at social networking sites and how they can be used by our healthcare system to support and improve existing protocols of health-related interactions. Three primary theories explored were social support, self-regulation and participatory health:
- Social Support: an individual’s well-being can be enhanced through the exchange of emotional and information resources with others via online health communities.
- Self-Regulation: online health communities stimulate self-determination of users by facilitating their sense of autonomy, competence and relatedness. Therefore, influencing an individual’s perception to perform health-related behaviours.
- Participatory Health: Social media can be a platform to equalise the power between providers and consumers, which in return advances a patient-centred design of care. Through mutual participation, ideas can be cultivated for better health outcomes.
My research involved talking with both our healthcare providers and healthcare consumers to integrate their perceptions about the implications of online health communities. I found that there is a need for clinician-inclusive online health communities that can help facilitate and be advantageous to the existing provider-consumer interactions. The prospective online health communities should:
- Provide information support by increasing the confidence and reliability of online content, without jeopardising patients’ ease of sharing.
- Reassure that there remains a sense of relatedness within the groups by building rapport between the providers and consumers; at the same time, facilitating the needs for patients’ sense of autonomy and competence through the aggregation of knowledge and experience.
- Support the long-term focus on reducing the rate and frequency of morbidity, and ensure there is an equity of service for the population.
- Push for patient-centred approaches by bringing together the ideas brought up by consumers and integrate them into developments and improvements to healthcare practice and treatment.
It’s our nature to desire social connectedness and collaboration so we shouldn’t discourage consumers from using social media nor should we discourage healthcare providers from using it. Instead, we should embrace and immerse in the opportunity to leverage our healthcare system by ensuring our patients can access trustworthy information and healthcare providers in real-time.