Return of the Guru

Can Social Media Become A Boon to Health Care?

Ara Trembly
Insurance Experts' Forum, November 28, 2011

One of the most predictable things about technology fads is that as soon as they attain “fad” status, we try to apply them to every conceivable problem, regardless of how practical or advisable the application.

This thought came to mind when I read a recent posting on ScienceDaily which noted that, “Social networking sites like Facebook and YouTube can be powerful platforms to deliver and receive healthcare information, especially for patients and caregivers who are increasingly going online to connect and share experiences with others with similar medical issues or concerns.”

The posting adds, however, that these sites may lack patient-centered information and can also be sources of misleading information that could potentially do more harm than good, according to the results of two separate social media-related studies unveiled recently at the American College of Gastroenterology's 76th Annual Scientific meeting in Washington, D.C.

In one study, “Social Media for Esophageal Cancer Survivors,” researchers from the Mayo Clinic in Florida found that social media is an important resource for patients and their caregivers who are facing important treatment decisions after being diagnosed with esophageal cancer and managing difficult nutritional and lifestyle issues after esophageal surgery, said ScienceDaily. A second study found that while YouTube can be a powerful tool for patient education and support, overall inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) content posted on YouTube was poor.

A singular problem with this report is that while YouTube could be viewed as a social media site, many of us don’t see it that way or use it that way. YouTube content is certainly not guaranteed to be factual and is often likely to be fictional, depending upon the sources of postings and their integrity, or lack thereof. There really is no guarantee that anything gleaned from YouTube is true, so making important health decisions based on what one sees there seems ill-advised.

The exhibitionistic personal sharing that goes on via Facebook, on the other hand, could indeed be turned to better use by exchange of valuable health information, but who is going to make sure that the information is accurate? Further, will users want to broadcast their health concerns to all their so-called “friends”—and the friends of those friends? This isn’t to say that dedicated online groups who seriously share vetted health information can’t be valuable, but we also have to realize that in this case the tool—the very public social media sites—may not be appropriate for the job at hand. For those whose health and lives we insure, it is vital that we guide them to reliable and private sources of information.

These studies and their qualified conclusions point more than ever to the duty of insurers and health care providers to review and disseminate the latest and most accurate health information to consumers. Simply leaving people to discover whatever they run across online is risky for them, and irresponsible for insurers.

Ara C. Trembly (www.aratremblytechnology.com) is the founder of Ara Trembly, The Tech Consultant, and a longtime observer of technology in insurance and financial services.

Readers are encouraged to respond to Ara using the “Add Your Comments” box below. He can also be reached at ara@aratremblytechnology.com.

This blog was exclusively written for Insurance Networking News. It may not be reposted or reused without permission from Insurance Networking News.

The opinions of bloggers on www.insurancenetworking.com do not necessarily reflect those of Insurance Networking News.

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