While ingesting what I would later learn to be a “dangerous” amount of medicated cough drops, my first blog post became suddenly clear…
It was Tuesday night when after having had a terrible fever and sore throat, odd red bump like blisters began showing up on my hands and feet. Alarmed and concerned, I did what any normal person would do in this age. I googled “red bumps on hands”. I clicked on one of the first links and to my utter shock (and partial relief), one user described with the utmost precision the EXACT SAME symptoms as mine…
Had it not been for this user to alert me that I likely had Hand Foot Mouth Disease, I would have had to once again endure the two hour long wait in the infirmary to be diagnosed with this childish virus (seriously–most all cases are in children under 10).
Despite the serious calamity that this virus has brought into my life the last week, what has been wonderful is the plethora of information on the web about this virus. I was able to see what the blisters looked like, what to expect, and how long it would last thanks to medical websites and social media users who shared their own experiences (how fun!).
Social media it would seem is an entirely beneficial revolution to happen within the healthcare industry. Before concluding this though, let’s look at the good and the bad of social media within the medical community.
The Good: Social media helps connect people with similar experiences/complications.
It can reduce doctor visits if there is no treatment (as it did in my case), while also helping doctors interact and communicate about illnesses or diseases they need more information about before treating. One example of this that has been in the recent news is an app called Figure 1. Essentially it is Instagram for doctors and uses crowdsourcing to diagnose mystery cases. Launched in 2013, the app has been downloaded by roughly 20% of medical residents and in one recent case, it helped to quickly diagnose a 13 month old’s strange rash thanks to another physician’s knowledge and expertise.
Another way in which social media has been involved in the medical field is through community sites for patients and supporters. Online sites like CaringBridge bring patients and loved ones together in a community platform with individualized sites for each patient. Designed to share and update supporters of the patient’s medical state, CaringBridge also allows supporters to offer words of encouragement and hope, creating a community that is accessible 24/7.
Other sites such as Doximity are specific to the medical community, much like Figure 1. With 250,000 members, it represents 40% of all doctors within the U.S. and is currently the largest online medical network. On the site physicians can connect with others and collaborate on patient treatment in one to one messages or through discussion forums.
The Bad: Privacy Issues and the Dangers of Self Diagnosis
Whenever you google something that is wrong with you, the worst always seems to pop up. As my paranoid roommate summed up before I undertook my Google search on Tuesday, “Don’t google that it’s going to tell you that you have cancer or something like that.” To her credit, anything and everything is almost always a symptom of some rare life threatening disease. As such, it is easy to get ahead of yourself and completely misdiagnose yourself or as the infographic below references become a “cyberchondriac”. The dangers of self diagnosis can also go the other way in that you may completely underestimate a pain or illness you have because some social media user or website chalked it up to nothing.
And as always with social media comes the issue of privacy. 10% of Figure 1 users are not doctors at all, though only doctors can comment on the photos and offer their advice. Figure 1’s approach to privacy is that the doctors are required to ask permission and no identifying details can be on camera, however should other users be allowed on the app? Furthermore, there have been instances of doctors and nurses using social media to inappropriately share photos and information about patients.
In my opinion I think the good outweighs the bad. With 1/3 of health care professionals on a social media site specific to their industry already, I’m curious to see how social media will continue to evolve within the medical community—whether it will become a guiding force or a tool left under utilized to its fullest potential due to liability and privacy issues. What are your thoughts?
Also for the record, I no longer have Hand Foot Mouth disease….Life is good.