A Tweet a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

Think about the last time you tweeted. It was most likely for this class, right? It might have contained an article about a Snapchat or Facebook update or about how drones and self-driving cars are going to take over the world.

Now think about the last time you were sick. You probably tried to take some cold medicine, got some sleep and drank tea, and if you were really desperate, you may have gone to health services.

Have you ever thought that those two experiences could be combined? Welcome to the world of modern medicine where healthcare and social media are becoming increasingly more intertwined.

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“Social health” is the idea that social media is allowing patients, doctors, hospitals, and healthcare companies to communicate, arguably in a quicker and more effective way. There are benefits for both patients and healthcare professionals, as well as some concerns.

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For patients:

Social media provides a place for patients to ask questions and gather information in a familiar and quick-response environment. While searching for community support or information regarding a particular illness, patients may come across branded content that encourages them to reach out through social media. Patients will tweet to pharma-controlled drug accounts regarding everything from procedural questions to concerns about incorrect dosage. This type of communication allows the companies to respond quickly, retaining patients. This not only keep the patients safe but also saves the company lots of money that would have otherwise been lost if the patient had dropped the drug for a competitor.

For healthcare professionals:

  • Doctors:

Doctors have been increasing their presence on social media for a variety of reasons. Doctors will use various platforms to educate patients, suggest support groups, and advertise clinical trials (Almost 40% of sites miss enrollment targets).

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  • Big Pharma:

Big Pharma companies will often turn to social media to get the attention of consumers. Twitter is a platform commonly used to get information out about the benefits of a certain drug or to advertise a celebrity endorsement. Big Pharma will also use social media as a way to have a conversation with doctors, cutting out the stereotypical annoying drug rep. Social Media is also a way that companies can tap into social listening and see where consumers are struggling and what opportunities are available. Many see the integration of social media and healthcare as a great way for companies to offer support to consumers at a quick and wide-spread level.

There are skeptics however, that worry Big Pharma uses social media more for their own gain than to actually improve the lives of patients. Looking to protect consumer health, the FDA has created numerous guidelines in the last few years in regards to social media and pharmaceutical companies. For example, celebrities partnering with a pharmaceutical company must outline the possible side effects of a particular medicine in addition to the on-label benefits. Just like how the commercials must state the side effects in the 30 second clip (even if it is said too quickly for you to actually understand) or how print ads must include them even if only in fine print, social media advertisements must follow the same rules. Not all companies or celebrities comply with this regulatory action. For example, Kim Kardashian posted about a morning sickness medication, Diclegis, for which she was a paid promoter.

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She was later required to take down the Instagram as it did not lay out the possible side effects, even though she included a link to the drug’s safety information. She later reposted the Instagram with the necessary information required. Companies spend a lot of time deciding the best platform for the information they want to display. For example, if a promoter is limited by characters, such as is the case with Twitter, he or she will not be able to comply with certain standards. It is interesting to see the extent to which healthcare companies are dedicating marketing efforts to social platforms.

There are a lot of concerns surrounding social media and healthcare with privacy, accuracy, and motive at the top of the list. However I think that social media is drastically changing the way we think of healthcare and its reach can have significant benefits. Just take the story of 18-year old Josh Sommer. Josh was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer, so rare only one in a million people share the diagnosis. With the help of social media Josh decided to take action. He started a Facebook page, the first of its kind for this community, that helped to fund research, bring people together, and recruit for a clinical trial. Within two days, Sommer’s Facebook community was able to completely fill the enrollment for a trial started in 2014. He started a conversation and made change regarding medicine and health with a few simple posts.

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9 comments

  1. Awesome blog! I have never considered this topic. Your discussions of the pros and cons outlined the trends nicely. I did not know that there were social media FDA guidelines but it makes sense. I also think social media and access to sites like web MD lead to individuals hypochondria. The power of social media and opportunities are evident as your example of the bone cancer patient shows.

  2. This was a great viewpoint. I often forget that for the doctor they gain benefit as they can promote their interests, find new patients and communicate with old ones. I also think patients gain a wider support network as there are now online support groups for many different diseases. This allows individuals to get more information on potential treatment options, doctors and ways to help with symptoms. A lot of the time there will be a doctor in this chat room or Facebook group in order to help answer questions and provide help. But like anything, I believe social media can also be a curse. It is so easy to see what symptoms could mean. For example you could type in your symptoms to google and have three different support groups pop up. Then you start to think do I have that disorder/disease. Most times you probably do not. Social media can definitely be a negative for hypochondriacs and those who over google!!

  3. Really interesting blog – it takes the FDA so long to approve most things, I am sure they struggled to keep with the growth of social media. I didn’t know about the Kim Kardashian violation of their regulations – this was really interesting. On the patient/doctor side, there are obviously huge benefits by being about to access information online, but I would say that there is still some hesitation from healthcare professionals towards social media and online communities due to patients self-diagnosing or misdiagnosing their symptoms. Also, I would say that some healthcare professionals are also cautious due to concerns about being accused of malpractice. Great blog, there are obviously a lot of upsides.

  4. Nice post. Actually the healthcare applications of social media was one of the things that first got me interested in the topic (my dissertation work was with electronic medical records). I confess that I expected faster adoption of digital and social for healthcare applications, but the industry has a long way to go to catch up!

  5. Great blog, Molly! I had no idea that social media was infiltrating the healthcare industry as well. Do you think that it’s going to continue to get bigger over the next few years? My one concern with this connection between the few is that many people are not going to advertise on social media what kind of pharmaceutical drugs they have to take, or what illness they’re currently battling. It does, however, seem like it could really benefit both patients and pharma companies if it continues to get bigger

  6. Very good blog, Molly! I think the whole idea of social media and the medical industry is very fascinating. I agree with Mike above that the whole idea of people not asking a lot of questions due to how personal an issue may be. I do think that there is a market for a more personal medical app where you can send more direct messages. There is no reason why there cannot be more patients helped out with the technology of social media. Thank you for enlightening all of us with this awesome blog!

  7. Great blog post! You discussed the pros and cons and touched on some trends that I was not too familiar with. Online resources have allowed people to research and discover new things, but I never thought something like Twitter could allow patients to gain wider support networks. It is brilliant if you think about it. Healthcare applications of social media will be something that gains more popularity in the future. I think the industry as a whole has been behind a little with social media, but it will catch up soon.

  8. Great analysis of the emerging “social health” market that we have yet to completely uncover. This reminds me of the guest speaker I listened to during my entrepreneurship finance class, in which she (the founder) talked about how her startup’s aim was to provide therapist sessions for customers via online video call for struggles such as depression and bipolar. But while I see so much potential and benefit for the general public with this new market, I worry about the legitimacy of advice/diagnosis from doctors online. How will we verify their trustworthiness and prevent them from spreading false information/advice?

  9. I think that you pose the two really interesting sides of the situation, both which possess extreme potential. On the side of doctors and big pharma, although it may be concerning to some about privacy and motives, their reach becomes broader than could’ve been imagined because there are people that may be afraid and/or cannot afford to get to a doctor directly. On the side of patients, it is really easy to confuse a situation that could be worse for something simple out of laziness because the opportunity to communicate through social media is present however, there are many situations in which people have to pay for a visit when the symptoms can be diagnosed easily and the cost can be avoided. Very interesting perspective, great post!

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