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The social habits of patients

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Earlier this year research was published that explored how medical professionals used social media.  It found that many were seeing excellent results from engaging with peer communities, where they could receive excellent advise from fellow professionals.

What about patients though?  Surely the web and social media has led to a fundamental shift in how we approach illness, given the vast resources available to learn about our symptoms from official resources, and indeed from other people.

New research has attempted to find out just how we use social media when we’re sick.  The research found out that 60% of us typically go online when we’re ill in an attempt to unearth information about our illness.  What’s interesting however is the role social plays in this.

The researchers asked nearly 1,750 adults how they use the web when they become sick.  An interesting trend emerging was that an increasing number of us are using consumer reviews to find out how good doctors and hospitals are before choosing which one to visit.  Also interesting was that 32% of people said they took to social media to find out from others with similar symptoms the course of action they took.

Here is where problems emerge however, because whilst a good number are reading, significantly fewer are contributing.  Just 10% of people who researched their illness online actually contributed content for others.

“People were consuming information a lot more than they were actually contributing to the dialogue,” lead researcher Rosemary Thackeray said.

Male female divide

It’s well known that men are often reluctant to visit their doctor when symptoms first emerge.  Are they any better at hitting the web to delve deeper?  It appears not.  The research found that women were much more likely to go online looking for health information than men were.

Another interesting finding was that wealthier people were more likely to research online than poorer people.

“Some of those demographics mirror who is actually using social media anyway, so you’re not finding a lot of older people posting online or consulting online even though they have more health conditions,” Thackeray said.

The research also has implications for those in the medical profession.  Whilst the study mentioned at the beginning of this post revealed that healthcare professionals are using peer communities to learn and share knowledge, it seems that much more could be done by the healthcare profession to influence our behaviours if they could engage with consumers online when symptoms first emerge.

This is especially important as the relatively small number of people contributing content can lead to mis-information being given and consumers subsequently making poor choices around their health.

Republished with permission