Empower Your Practice

Journal for Practice Managers

The Potential and Challenges of Social Media in the Health Sector

Online social networks are free, accessible platforms for exchanging information. They burst into our lives rapidly, capturing most of our time, both personal and professional.

According to the IDC study, 85% of people check their smartphones within 15 minutes of waking up. And most often they turn to social networking sites.

A lot of medical institutions, healthcare organizations, professional communities use accounts on social media for marketing activities, announcing events and educational purposes.

The obvious benefits of social media are the following:

  • Education and information sharing
  • Personal brand development
  • Networking and collaboration
  • Public health surveillance and outbreak management
  • Marketing and recruiting
  • Telemedicine

The figure shows the results of a survey conducted to determine how often people search for medical information online. 65% of the survey participants tried to get such information at least once a month over the past year.

stat-on-searching-for-medical-information-online

Despite these advantages there are several challenges posed by the use of social media in the field of health. Today we are planning to discuss them in detail and find some ways to overcome the obstacles.

We have gathered the most common challenges you can face while promoting your webpage, blog, or social media account.

Misinformation

Social media channels are often used to spread misinformation and false information about health. This can be harmful to individuals who rely on this information to make decisions about their well-being.

False or misleading information about health can lead to inappropriate treatment decisions, missed diagnoses, or unnecessary tests and procedures, which can have serious consequences for individuals. This can be especially problematic when the information is presented as fact, without proper context or verification.

It is imperative for individuals to be critical of the health information they find on social media. They should verify the information with a trusted healthcare professional or a reliable source before making any decisions based on this information.

Health communication in social media accounts must be based on facts. A blogger can share the diplomas of his medical education as well as the DOI of his studies. Your task as a meaningful content consumer is to do a validation check. Always.

As a healthcare provider, you must be completely aware of the credibility of your content. If you hire a content manager, make sure that he possesses at least minimal knowledge of various health issues and the healthcare industry. Don’t be a source of anti-scientific information. There are plenty of them.

Due to the individually customized reports at Medesk, you can always understand which articles and blog materials engage paying patients.

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Cyberbullying

Social media can also be a platform for cyberbullying, which can have serious consequences for the mental health of individuals who are targeted.

Cyberbullying can damage a doctor's reputation, leading to negative perceptions of their professionalism and credibility. It also can be emotionally and mentally draining for the doctor, which can distract them from providing quality patient care.

If a bully is a professional himself, it violates medical codes of conduct and professional standards, which can lead to disciplinary action by licensing boards and professional organizations. These doctors often lose their medical licenses.

Social media users can be rude and offensive in comments. Your task is to track this behaviour and warn/ban such comments, tweets, or profiles. Take responsibility for the atmosphere in your professional account and start managing negatives reviews.

It's critical for healthcare professionals to be aware of the risks and potential consequences of cyberbullying and take steps to protect themselves and their patients from harm.

Patient privacy concerns

Of course, you can secure your practice by using a modern PMS system. But what about social media information?

Social media applications typically collect and share personal information, which can be a concern for individuals who are hesitant to share sensitive health information online.

There are several ways in which personal health information can be shared on social media, including through posts, photos, and comments. This information can be accessed by a wide range of individuals, including friends, family, and strangers, and can potentially be used for malicious purposes. It is important for individuals to be mindful of the personal information they share on social media, especially when it comes to their health.

It may be helpful to use privacy settings and to be selective about who has access to this information. It is also a wise idea to be aware of the terms of service for social media platforms. These often outline how personal information will be used and shared.

Moreover, as a health service representative, you must comply with HIPAA regulations. In other words, you are not allowed to share personal information about patients, such as their age, sex, diagnoses, etc. If you mention a medical case in your post, it’s better to change the real names and not to show a person’s face without his permission.

Distraction

Social media can also be a major distraction, which can be a concern for healthcare professionals.

Healthcare professionals, in particular, may be at risk of being distracted by notifications and other distractions while they are working. This can lead to errors or a decline in productivity, which can have serious consequences for patient care. In addition, social media can be a major distraction for individuals who are seeking health information or seeking to manage their own health.

Social media usage is a very time-consuming activity. According to GlobalWebIndex, which surveyed more than 12,000 people from 13 countries in mid-March 2020, 45% of users began spending more time on social networks during the pandemic.

Searches for health promotion and related topics have become more popular since 2020. The role of social media has changed too. Now it is not only a place for fun, but an integral part of the healthcare system. And if you are involved in the social media marketing of a medical institution or a private practice, you must be ready to devote your time to this process every single day to achieve results.

Individually customized reports at Medesk make it clear where to advertise and what services to offer. You can plan special offers, use color-coded tags that will help segment and analyze specific data for pre-selected positions.

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Stand out from the crowd

The Internet is exploding because of low quality content. The general public has access to it. They rewrite each other’s articles without bothering about quality and credibility. This leads to the problem of young people absorbing useless or even harmful information about their health behavior.

The challenge for medical professionals here is to stand out from the crowd and share only relevant information.

Yes, sometimes you are too busy to write a decent post for your page. And there is a burning desire to write a quick note and have the matter done. Whether it's entertainment content or an advertisement, just do it. But if you are thinking about sharing educational content, it is advisable not to post anything that is not confirmed.

Remember that you provide simple "health education" through your blog. You can’t imagine a professor delivering lectures without some practical materials, studies and examples, can you?

The impact of social media is huge and you, as a healthcare professional, must provide links to all the information. Don’t be afraid to refer to PubMed, Google Scholar, the Journal of Medical Internet Research and other authoritative sources.

Moreover, you can use metrics and analytics to find out what topics are more preferable for your target audience and make their experience with your blog better.

challenges-of-social-media-in-health-inf


Summing Up: Brief Recommendations

Now you understand the potential risks and benefits of using social media, and you can weigh them carefully before deciding to participate.

Here are some extra tips that might be useful:

  1. Use the opportunities of social networks for professional development, training, communication, dissemination and exchange of medical information in compliance with the rules of confidentiality and professional ethics.
  2. Observe boundaries when communicating with a patient on social networks. It is better to separate personal and professional accounts.
  3. Avoid contacts on social networks with former or current patients, discussing issues of diagnosis and/or treatment.
  4. Consider the issue of sending and publishing images taken within the institution by employees in the internal regulations.
  5. Do not participate in discussions or publish information with a potential conflict of interest.
  6. Do not enter into a discussion with colleagues or patients who may harm the reputation of a particular person or profession.

Wrapping up, social media can present a number of challenges for the healthcare sector. These challenges include concerns about privacy and security, the spread of misinformation, and the potential for cyberbullying. However, social media also has the potential to be a valuable tool for healthcare professionals, allowing them to share information, connect with patients, and collaborate with other healthcare professionals.

Therefore, it's important for healthcare organizations to be aware of the potential risks and benefits of social media. Additionally, they should develop policies and procedures to mitigate risks and take advantage of opportunities.

To ensure that the use of social media in the health sector is safe and beneficial for patients, healthcare professionals and healthcare organizations, it's a must to make systematic reviews and stay informed about the latest research and guidelines related to the use of social media in healthcare.

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