Are you going to Facebook instead of the doctor?

Are you going to Facebook instead of the doctor?

Summary: What do you think of using social media for health information?

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Are you going to Facebook instead of the doctor?I recently read an article that said that a sizable percentage of people are using social networks to get information about health.

I found myself wondering how the heck a person would even do that, so I logged onto Facebook in an attempt to investigate. Believe or not, the first thing I saw was a camera phone picture that a friend of a friend had uploaded, showing her badly swollen ankle.

She had snapped a picture with her cell phone, uploaded it, and 19 of her closest friends had commented on how bad it looked, offering opinions of what to do about it. The usefulness of the comments varied, ranging from the "Oh, poor baby!" variety, to things like, "Get an X-ray now," and "Eeew, gross!"

I left the computer momentarily. By the time I came back, less than five minutes later, there were two more comments. As of this writing, it's up to 36 comments. She's apparently decided to ice and elevate the injury, avoid the emergency room on a weekend, and see a doctor tomorrow.

Oddly enough, I don't personally know the woman with the swollen ankle. But because one of her friends, who is also one of my friends, had commented on her injury, I was able to see a detailed picture of it.

Should we use social media for health care information?

There are a ton of issues here.

I guess it's great if your friends are knowledgeable. But a whole bunch of advice from well-meaning friends who know nothing about the healing arts might not be very helpful.

Bad advice could actually cause someone to avoid seeking much-needed medical attention. After all, some of the signs and symptoms of serious conditions are innocuous and counter-intuitive.

Then again, in the richness of our human experience, we pick up a lot of information we can pass on. We might be able to steer friends toward treatment they might really need, but wouldn't otherwise seek.

For example, 25 Facebook friends piling on the guy who is refusing to seek treatment for feelings of pressure in his chest might provide enough social pressure to get him to dial 9-1-1.

I also wonder whether active practitioners of the healing arts might be choosing to stay out of these sorts of Facebook conversations. They might think it wise to avoid liability issues and other questions associated with giving snap-judgment medical advice based on bad cell phone pictures.

Apparently, as reported by fellow ZDNet blogger Emil Protalinski, that wasn't the case with the British surgeon who stepped up to the plate and diagnosed the appendicitis of an old friend from afar, probably saving his life.

See also: Surgeon gives life-saving diagnosis, via Facebook

As a nurse, I am pondering the possibilities of how the medical community could reach people, teach people, help people, and encourage people through Facebook and other forms of social media.

Of course, there is a huge difference between educating and diagnosing. Concerns about practicing across state lines, and other potential pitfalls, are important to explore and properly address.

The fact that people may not like to be sold to or preached to on their social networks by businesses should be taken into account, even if these businesses are corporate health care firms.

Yet, I think there is real potential in using the mediums people love to get important health information out to the general populace.

What do you think of using social media for health information? Do you do so already? How are you using it? Please share in the TalkBacks below.

Topics: Social Enterprise, CXO, Health, Legal, IT Employment

About

Denise Amrich is a Registered Nurse, the health care advisor for the U.S. Strategic Perspective Institute, and a mentor for the Virtual Campus at Florida's Brevard Community College.


Nothing in this article is meant to be a substitute for medical advice, and shouldn't be considered as such. If you are in need of medical help, please see your doctor.

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Talkback

16 comments
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  • RE: Are you going to Facebook instead of the doctor?

    [i]But a whole bunch of advice from well-meaning friends who know nothing about the healing arts might not be very helpful.[/i]
    That pretty much says it all. Unless your friends are doctors and nurses and know a thing or two about the medical field its probably best not to seek advice from them except the ones that say "go to a doctor". I'm sure diagnosis works in some cases through social media, but that is few.
    Loverock Davidson
    • RE: Are you going to Facebook instead of the doctor?

      The problem with using social media for important health information is that it's inundated with supplements, chiropractors, homeopathic remedies, acupuncture, Jenny McCarthy, and other quackery that either doesn't do a damn thing or, even worse, gets someone who has a very treatable disease killed.

      Advice from friends an family? Appreciated, but [i]always[/i] get a professional opinion. A good friend of mine recently had a healthy baby boy (thankfully), but while she was still carrying, one of her friends was telling her she needed to be taking this supplement and taking that supplement and what not. I really wanted to interject and ask, "Is that what your obstetritionist told you to take? Why are you risking the safety of your baby by taking things suggested to you by someone who is [i]not[/i] your doctor, does [i]not[/i] know your medical history, does [i]not[/i] know your body chemistry, etc."

      While friends and family mean well, and they may be correct with their advice, it's always best to see your personal care doctor, [i]even[/i] if your friend is a professional themselves. Your friend doesn't have all your medical background and history. There are things they may not know or account for that would otherwise be important in treating whatever ailment you have.

      In short, see your personal care physician if something's troubling you.
      WarhavenSC
  • RE: Are you going to Facebook instead of the doctor?

    93% of the total human communication as a device
    is body language !

    Social media utilizes a fraction of the reminder . . . . .

    Who will design a gearbox with only sub 7 percent of the
    cogs missing !?

    The slowest mutating breed seemingly believe
    it works in its IT equivalent.

    ROFLMAO !
    xmeshman
    • RE: Are you going to Facebook instead of the doctor?

      I dont know much about anatomy, but I know bollocks when I read it.
      njoho
  • RE: Are you going to Facebook instead of the doctor?

    And the lazy continue to get lazier. The circle of life continues.
    Bates_
    • RE: Are you going to Facebook instead of the doctor?

      I dont know much about anatomy, but I know bollocks when I read it. <a href="http://www.riseuniversity.com/schools-majors/law-and-legal-studies/">legal studies degree</a> | <a href="http://www.riseuniversity.com/schools-majors/natural-sciences/">Online Natural sciences School</a>
      jasonhawk
  • If you are dumb enough to ask Facebook for medical advice ...

    ... I honestly won't feel sorry when you end up as one of the stories in the yearly Darwin Awards.
    wackoae
  • RE: Are you going to Facebook instead of the doctor?

    Facebook? Terrible idea. But, sadly, some degree of self-diagnosing off of the internet is almost mandatory these days if you want to get reasonable care.

    The way most doctors operations run is that you walk in, they listen vaguely to you for about 5 minutes, take the first thing that pops into their head, and throw some pills at you and then send you on your way. Half the time those pills don't help or have nothing to do with what is wrong and have side effects to boot.

    Doctor's get paid by how many patients they can get through the system. No matter how well-meaning docs may be, if the incentives are stacked in the wrong direction they are going to feel pressured for efficiency not quality especially at for-profit institutions. Repeat visits also mean more money for docs so there is no incentive to fix people correctly the first time.

    It's not that docs are stupid and that I'm smart, but that I have VASTLY more time to devote to my particular issue. If you don't research things yourself to get the doc pointed in the right direction, you won't have much success with the medical system.
    SlithyTove
    • You make a fair point

      @SlithyTove Thanks for contributing that very cogent point. This is exactly the kind of discussion that's great to see here at ZDNet Health. Any ideas on using social media for actual research purposes?
      Denise Amrich, RN
      • RE: Are you going to Facebook instead of the doctor?

        @denise@...

        I think some kind of professionally managed database (think wikipedia but with much stricter controls on who can edit content and a review process for it) would be amazing. Importantly it would need lots and lots of pictures of various things so that it is easier to visually compare. Too many of the existing sites will have a small picture, maybe two of a particular issue. That's not near enough when the exact same illness could look somewhat differently under different conditions. And you want gooey gross zoom in levels of detail too.

        I also think it should be possible for patients to have access to all of the test, scans, etc which are performed on them. Social media might provide a useful mechanism where docs can feed data into your self-managed account and you can choose which docs you wish to make that data available to. Far too much medical data gets misplaced, lost, or rendered less useful because we don't personally have the ability to own and manage it. As much as we are paying for that data we have a right to accessibility.

        Lastly I could see a use for a "Facebook for doctors" where docs can build up a network of professional contacts and do the equivalent of posting symptoms and pictures and going "what the heck is this?" There is a lot of value in facebook-style diagnosis if you filter it to the right people. :)
        SlithyTove
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    james347
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    james347
  • RE: Are you going to Facebook instead of the doctor?

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  • RE: Are you going to Facebook instead of the doctor?

    I've noticed quite a few holistic health providers offer their <a style="text-decoration: none; color: #333333;" href="http://www.healthdietandwellness.com/homeopathic-medicine/what-is-nux-vomica-homeopathic-remedy">homeopathic remedy</a> and treatment advice through Facebook and now Twitter. I agree there should be a regulated health platform as SilthyTove mentioned such as an FB for physicians.
    salvernale
  • RE: Are you going to Facebook instead of the doctor?

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