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Declaration of sponsorship Novartis Pharma AG

Navigating health information in the social world

Declaration of sponsorship Novartis Pharma AG
Read time: 10 mins
Last updated:26th Jan 2021
Published:26th Jan 2021

Introduction

We are currently in the midst of a ‘second information revolution’.1 While the first revolution revolved around the spread of the written word through the press, the second is centred in the digital world. The spread of information through digital channels, such as social media, is transforming how we interact with each other around the globe.1

This digital information revolution is reflected throughout the world of healthcare, where we are faced with the unprecedented expansion in the ways we share, access, create and disseminate health-related information.2 Online users’ interaction with information has evolved from simple searching to a more dynamic and collaborative engagement with information.3 Social media sites encourage health consumers to communicate and share knowledge directly with one another4–6 and build community-wide networks.7

Explore the sections below to discover more about health information in the social world!

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The potential advantages and disadvantages of social media

Social media has the potential for both negative and positive effects on public health.2,8,9

The reliability of information shared through social media is a widely recognised concern.10,11 Anyone can share information about health and medical information, regardless of professional experience or knowledge and there is the danger of social media being used to spread ‘fake news’.2

In addition, social media could have far-reaching effects on the health of patients with asthma, as they are at increased risk of having anxiety, mood disorders and psychological stress, any of which can exacerbate asthma symptoms.12

On the other hand, if appropriately monitored, social media information and responses can also be effective strategies to gain feedback on potential public health policies or the impact of education.6,13

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How can digital information support consultations?

Patients will often prepare for face-to-face consultations using online sources of information, as well as using these sources to supplement the information received by their physician.14

Of patients attending a paediatric and adult allergy clinic, one in two searched online sources before their hospital appointment.14 Substantial proportions of patients searched blogs/testimonials (55%), allergy websites (32%), non-specialised websites (30%) and social networks (13%).14 Patients consulted online sources to gain more in-depth knowledge of the illness (50%), to find explanations in simpler language (24%) and to expand on information provided by their physician (21%). Only 5% sought more information because they didn’t trust their physician.14

Public health crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic are likely to drive the proportion of patients searching for information online even higher, with even greater reliance on social media to better understand health information.15 COVID-19 also led to a mass migration to digital consultations: one New York based healthcare system reported that video consultations increased from 102.4 to 801.6 daily between March 2nd and April 14th 2020, with no negative impact on patient satisfaction.16 However, not all healthcare systems have the required infrastructure or financial backing to implement mass digital consultations17 and it remains to be seen whether these trends will continue post-pandemic.

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Social media and patient empowerment

Patients with respiratory conditions should be empowered to learn about and recognise severe symptoms and treat them quickly before there is progression to a life-threatening situation. Therefore, it is important patients have a solid foundation of knowledge, which will enable them to make better decisions with respect to their illness.14

In order to strengthen patient empowerment and the doctor-patient relationship, there is a need for:

  • Health-care professionals (HCPs) to ask their patients where they find information about asthma and whether social media and networks play a crucial part in their patients’ lives. HCPs should also engage with their patients to assess health indicators and record information about issues such as treatment adherence12
  • HCPs to increase their presence on the web and social media, and continue provision of health education outside of the clinic12,14
  • Virtual media tools with useful and sound information using straightforward language which patients can refer to in order to clarify and resolve any doubts14

Glossary

Social media

A broad term referring to any digital tool (such as websites or apps) that allows the sharing of information and user-created content between users.

Fake news

Fabricated or misleading information that imitates news media content in form, but not in organisational process or intent.

References

  1. McKee M, van Schalkwyk MCI, Stuckler D. The second information revolution: Digitalization brings opportunities and concerns for public health. Eur J Environ Public Health 2019;29:3–6.
  2. Pulido CM, Ruiz-Eugenio L, Redondo-Sama G, Villarejo-Carballido B. A new application of social impact in social media for overcoming fake news in health. Int J Environ Res Public Health 2020;17:2430.
  3. Lober WB, Flowers JL. Consumer empowerment in health care amid the Internet and social media. Semin Oncol Nurs 2011;27:169–82.
  4. Greene JA, Choudhry NK, Kilabuk E, Shrank WH. Online social networking by patients with diabetes: a qualitative evaluation of communication with Facebook. J Gen Intern Med 2011;26:287–92.
  5. Attai DJ, Cowher MS, Al-Hamadani M, et al. Twitter social media is an effective tool for breast cancer patient education and support: patient-reported outcomes by survey. J Med Internet Res 2015;17:e188.
  6. Craig D, Strivens E. Facing the times: a young onset dementia support group: Facebook style. Australas J Ageing 2016;35:48–53.
  7. Centola D. Social media and the science of health behavior. Circulation 2013;127:2135–44.
  8. Viviani M, Pasi G. Credibility in social media: Opinions, news, and health information - a survey. Wiley Interdiscip Rev Data Min Knowl Discov 2017;7:1–25.
  9. Waszak PM, Kasprzycka-Waszak W, Kubanek A. The spread of medical fake news in social media – the pilot quantitative study. Health Policy Technol 2018;7:115–8.
  10. Dalmer NK. Questioning reliability assessments of health information on social media. JMLA 2017; 105: 61–6.
  11. Moorhead SA, Hazlett DE, Harrison L, et al. A new dimension of health care: systematic review of the uses, benefits, and limitations of social media for health communication. J Med Internet Res. 2013;15:e85.
  12. Yaqub F. Asthma online: pros and cons of social media and networks. Lancet Respiratory 2014;2:444.
  13. Hyndman B, Zundans-Fraser L. Determining public perceptions of a proposed national heat protection policy for Australian schools. Health Promot J Aust 2020;3:7–15.
  14. Carpio-Escalona LV, Gonzalez-de-Olano D. Use of the Internet by patients attending allergy clinics and its potential as a tool that better meets patients’ needs. J Allergy Clin Immunol Pract 2018;6: 1064–6.
  15. Abrams EM, Shaker M, Oppenheimer J, et al. The challenges and opportunities for shared decision making highlighted by COVID-19. J Allergy Clin Immunol Pract 2020;8:2474–80.
  16. Mann DM, Chen J, Chunara R, Testa PA, and Nov O. COVID-19 transforms health care through telemedicine: evidence from the field. J Am Med Inform Assoc 2020;27: 1132–1135
  17. Hollander JE and Carr BG. Virtually perfect? Telemedicine for COVID-19. NEJM 2020;382:1679–1681.
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