The radical global growth in information and communications technology has given rise to the number of internet users who account for 37% of the world’s total population according to ‘Internet World Statistics’.
With this growth, burgeoning use of social media has also increased which includes collaborative projects such as Wikipedia, blogs and content communities such as Twitter and YouTube, and social networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn.
The world has seen the influence of social media on global political and community initiatives which has lead to its widespread recognition and use.
Social media has also influenced the healthcare industry and has widespread implications for its stakeholders. The World Health Organization has pages on social networking websites which share information regarding disease patterns and potential epidemics to its global followers.
Like other industries, social media has had an astounding impact on healthcare. Consumers can now express concerns or share information with healthcare professionals or other consumers through social networking websites. Through social networks, blogs, forums and communities, healthcare providers and consumers can communicate their issues and get immediate responses. According to research, 30% of adults in the U.S have been found to have received help through information found on the internet.
Indeed, social media has spread like wildfire and its outreach has influenced even the busiest individuals such as healthcare professionals. Providers and nurses have the opportunity to stay up-to-date with recent developments in the healthcare industry. Care providers professionals can now interact with others in the industry and share ideas and experiences.
Use of Social Media in healthcare has updated the way patients and care providers can connect. Ramona Nelson, co-author of a book explaining the impact of social media on healthcare states, “Patients are becoming our colleagues. It’s changing relationships and the kinds of questions and services a patient asks for.”
Increased use of social media has provided a new platform where the healthcare community can interact and interconnect, but it has brought with it several risks as well.
Healthcare providers are worried about the credibility of content being shared and used on social media . Since information is shared at such a rapid pace, moderation of healthcare related content is very important so that inaccurate information such as rumors about spreading diseases are dispelled as quickly as possible.
When people are sharing healthcare information on unmonitored social media websites, there is high risk of someone sharing private and confidential company information. This can be done deliberately or by mistake, nevertheless causing significant damage to providers, patients and the company. Such issues usually involve employees sharing confidential information about patients or the employer on social networks like Facebook or Twitter in the form of posts, comments or multimedia.
Other issues consist of disgruntled healthcare employees or patients trying to manipulate, bully and negatively criticize their employers or patients. Such occurrences not only pose risks to the individuals involved in unethical behavior which might lead to divorce with their employers, but also a threat to healthcare organizations who may find their reputation tarnished in the industry.
It must not be forgotten that healthcare professionals are responsible for the confidentiality of patient health information and company privacy laws, which is why the industry leaders in collaboration with regulatory bodies should develop, educate and implement stringent policies regarding healthcare information so that the risks posed by free and open information sharing platforms are minimized. The Royal College of General Practitioners in the United Kingdom recently developed the ‘Social Media Highway Code’ for its GPs to ensure that they meet their professional obligations and protect patient health information.
It is clear to see the vast benefits that the healthcare industry can utilize through responsible usage of social media. The most important thing now is for regulations such as HIPAA and HITECH to include and implement stringent rules governing the use of social media in order to protect all parties involved.