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.
“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.
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 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).
- 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.
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.