Can Medicine Benefit From Social Media?

If there’s one thing we love the most that technology has given us, it is the debut of the Internet and everything else that comes with it especially social media. Imagine how social media has changed the lives of virtually everyone on the planet. It’s not just used for leisure but even for work and business too. People can spend hours on the web browsing through their various social media accounts and never feel bored at all. Access to the Internet is no longer a luxury but a basic human need that should be met without much of a struggle.

Social media got everything covered. Whatever your field, profession or interests may be, you are sure to find a page where you can feel at home and connect with like-minded individuals. The use of social media is not just about maintaining existing relationships with previous and current offline contacts but even in making new contacts from complete strangers you meet online.

Just as Snapchat and Instagram and YouTube have influencers, so too does medicine. Chronic diseases occupy an online world of memes, hashtags (#hospitalglam), and people who provide information and insights to communities that too often feel they have no voice. A growing number of companies are hiring these patient influencers to reach, and understand, these folks. And, of course, sell them stuff.

Last month, the Boston company Wego Health launched a web-based platform that introduces pharmaceutical firms, medical device manufacturers, hospitals, and insurers to people like Ingles. Those firms, in turn, pay influencers for access to their experiences, expertise, and followers. Ingles started working with Wego’s beta pilot last year and takes a few jobs a month. Wego is something of a bulletin board where companies post their needs—someone to recruit 50 people for a survey, for example, or represent the patient perspective on a panel—and influencers vetted by Wego apply. All the details are left to the parties involved; Wego only coordinates the introductions.

And social media serves as a powerful, efficient and cost-effective tool in helping everyone learn more about various health conditions and management direct from the social media posts of patients themselves who have the disease or tried specific treatments (especially medical breakthroughs and innovative treatments) and medical experts who now act as social media ambassadors for these causes.

Some people on the platform put their personal disease journeys front and center of their social media channels—posting hospital gown selfies and live tweeting colon imaging procedures. But other patient influencers work more behind the scenes. Jodi Dwyer, an oncology social worker from Boston who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2008, has recruited other MS patients for surveys, sat in on focus groups, and spoken on panels hosted by various pharmaceutical manufacturers.


We live in a world dominated by technology. So, it does not come out as a surprise that people often make their choices according to what they often see on social media or what is shared the most by the people or pages they follow. Traditional advertising is no longer the only platform to deliver key messages to the masses. Social media is where almost everybody is, so it makes perfect sense to tap this channel to reach a wider audience without spending a fortune.

There’s no point in denying that millennials are influenced by opinions posted on social media. They frequently consult blogs, Facebook, and other social media sites before making decisions relating to education, career, finances, travel and purchases. But does the influence of social media expand to include health care decisions?

As it turns out, the answer is yes. Millennials rely strongly on social media as a source of education on healthcare issues. Further, social media has a huge impact on provider selection, general medical advice and lifestyle choices.

Over 75% of Americans use social media to research their symptoms. Also, 90% of people aged 18 to 24 stated they trust medical info shared on their social feeds, according to PwC Health Research Institute. This survey makes it pretty clear that medical and health information isn’t simply being shared to spur conversation, or because it’s interesting. Millennials, or at the least the youngest segment of that generation see social media as a trustworthy source for medical information.

This could be problematic if they are using that info to make healthcare decisions without vetting the information, or foregoing medical advice, especially as, according to Epiphany Resources, one in five Americans admit to taking medicine either prescribed for someone else or misusing their own prescription for nonmedical reasons.


However, we likewise need to remember that when it comes to our health, we should not rely solely on the opinions and experiences of others when making decisions. One should consult with a health care provider and get a proper and thorough assessment before taking anything internally. Each of us is unique and so is our body. Another person may react differently to a set of drugs or treatment than the other person, so you really can’t expect to get the same results.

Moreover, you may have underlying conditions that are different from the other or are currently taking other medications that may trigger a different reaction. Even if you read all health care reviews, you can’t always expect to experience the same thing although it helps that we raise our awareness over something by enriching our knowledge about various medical conditions and management. A word of caution, though, that not everything you see on the web is true. So, the best thing to do is to always have that talk with your doctor before believing in any medical hype that is trending on social media to stay on the safe side. At least, you can confirm whether it really is true or not. There is no harm in asking, after all, because it is your life and health that is at stake.

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