Social media has made a significant impact on every aspect of our lives. Healthcare is no exception. The increasing usage of social networks among both practitioners and patients has proven to cast a positive impact on the overall healthcare quality.
Specifically, social media largely contributes to how we choose our healthcare providers. According to a PricewaterhouseCoopers report, 41% of patients said that social media content impacted their choice of hospital or physician.
Another massive study conducted at the University of Groningen, The Netherlands, indicates that social media has even a stronger impact on doctor-patient relationships. After analyzing over 1,700 articles, researches identified that the patients’ use cases of social media can be grouped into six categories:
- Network Support
- Social Comparison
- Emotional Expression
Each of these use cases presents different effects on patients and, at the same time, affect their relationship with the healthcare provider in the following manner.
Social media usage leads to more equal communication between doctors and patients
Social media has become a popular tool for patients to expand their knowledge about their condition and treatment options. For example, 29% of patients peruse social media to view other patients’ experience with their disease and 42% browse social media platforms to discover health-related consumer reviews according to PwC.
Consequently, by increasing their knowledge, patients come more prepared to the consultations. They can communicate with their doctor better and know what kind of questions to ask. According to Kevin Meuret, CEO of Mantality Health, “Social media usage makes patients more inclined to actively communicate with their doctor during the medical consults in the first place. Growing conversations on social media about ‘stigmatized’ conditions such as low testosterone levels or psoriasis send a powerful message to other sufferers and encourage their willingness to seek medical attention.”
For instance, the Psoriasis Association has launched a massive awareness campaign on Instagram, encouraging users to share images of their condition using #getyourskinout and #psoriasiscommunity. Dominic Urmston, digital communications officer at the charity, explained that “Users can find people who share similar experiences who they can chat to and support one another. Also, it empowers them so they can share images of their psoriasis and post about their experiences too”. As a result, the condition becomes less stigmatized and more people are encouraged to weigh in on various treatment options and speak about them with their healthcare providers.
Social media contributes to increased switching of doctors
On a less bright note, social media can contribute to the patient’s likelihood to change their provider multiple times. 44% of users look up information about doctors or other health professionals before scheduling a visit. Patients now pay more attention to negative reactions shared by other users. And can choose to switch doctors after participating in an online discussion with another patient. Social media reviews have had the most effect on provider choice for patients who are coping with a chronic disease, try to manage their diet or stress.
Social media helps develop more harmonious doctor-patient relationships
“Social media often empowers patients to follow physician’s recommendations and stick with the proposed treatment plan, especially if they become part of a social media support group,” said James Bayliss, CEO of Vaper Empire. “This, in turn, creates less tension between the doctor and the patient during clinical interactions.”
Additionally, social media often provides patients with space to “vent” their negative emotions and frustrations with the condition, instead of doing so in front of the doctor.
However, the research further identified a missed opportunity – patients tend to rarely empower one another to seek alternative treatments if their current one doesn’t bring the results they want.
Social media content can result in suboptimal interactions between doctors and patients
Social media and online publishers have given us accesses to an enormous amount of scattered health information. Millennials, in particular, are more inclined to follow online health advice and rely on information shared by their peers, instead of scheduling necessary appointments with specialists.
“When patients bring social media content to consultation, along with their strong opinions on the matter, healthcare professionals are forced to spend time on sorting and verifying that information,” said Dali Dugan, CEO of HealthworxCBD. “As a result, they feel that their expertise is being challenged and that can impact their behavior with the patient during the session. Negative reactions from the doctor can affect the patient’s subjective well being, making them feel disempowered.”
And those professionals, who are willing to take an extra mile for their patient and look through the information, face an increased risk of making the wrong judgment by being presented incomplete or questionable data from unverified sources.
The bottom line is this: as a patient you should treat information sourced online with extra judgment. While it can be helpful to increase your overall understanding of the condition and guide you towards asking the right questions from your practitioner, it should not be treated as the ultimate source of truth or leveraged to question the doctor’s expertise.