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Social Media: A Game Changer in Public Health?

Mar 26, 2023 | 0 comments

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Mar 26, 2023 | Essays | 0 comments


For social media to be successful and impact the chosen target population, it must be centered on participation. Social media, members engage, interact, and follow up on topics easily. Therefore, social media and public health together can be defined as the interaction of individuals through these platforms on various health care issues. The interaction is two-way rather than one-way. It does not just cover the healthcare professionals and the information they disseminate through social media platforms. It also covers the patients and healthcare organizations who share healthcare information, diagnosis, and treatment option on their own social media platforms.  Social media channels provide a fast way to pass the information and have the involved individuals act on it without having to rely on traditional forms of communication. Social media and public health require the interaction of various mix of integral social media channels to improve the chances of success.

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Operational definition

Prassad (2013) in his study showed that the potential of social media on public health is yet to be fully explored.  He determined that behavior change directed towards building a healthier population is possible through social media platforms.  According to him, existing forms of social media channels such as Face book where patients and organizations interact on healthcare matters should not be considered as a fad. This is perhaps why the government has taken a keen interest in promoting and marketing healthcare campaigns through social media. The potential of success increases, following statistics that at least 70% of the internet users are indeed active in social media on various aspects. In May of 2012, the social media health platform was revolutionized when facebook allowed patients to share donor requests and pleas. The result was a potential increase of members discussing donor information and an increase in online donors.

Social media and healthcare in the public forum

Towards 1995 the rise of HIV new infections among the youth necessitated the government to establish and devise new ways to combat the disease. This coupled with the need to reach a wider audience during the outbreak of dangerous diseases such as SAS and Ebola brought social media to the forefront of healthcare discussions (Cain 2011). Today, social media has become part and parcel of healthcare. Cancer patients receive support through social media through relevant support groups, transplant patients seek donors through social media, and healthcare professionals alert potential patients on the spread of a disease and treatment options. In November 2013, the Ministry of Health called for more action to focus on developing tools for promoting healthcare through social media.

Recent discussions and debates on healthcare have brought back the debate generating around social media. While many studies show that social media is effective in curbing the spread of diseases. The recent outbreak of Ebola saw an increase in the updates by the CDC and cautions for potential patients, these were credited for curbing the spread of the disease internationally (Hawn 2009). The movement from basic information dissemination to functional information spread was evident. However, when it comes to social media and healthcare professionals, some studies advise users should err on the side of caution. Many doctors have gotten into trouble, lost their positions, and faced ethical dilemmas when it comes to the use of social media and information on their patients. Whereas the social media platform is an ideal area to share information, concern has arisen among the policymakers on how such information can be controlled and managed. For them, there is no compelling evidence that indeed social media can play a vital role in comprehensive healthcare in the country.

Long term effects of social media and public health

CDC is perhaps the biggest supporter of the importance of social media in future health care. According to the organization, there are few chances of surviving healthcare scars without social media. CDC has marketed and established itself on various social media platforms, keeping in touch with the discussions and even going as far as to update members of various issues about health. Various effects strengthen the possibility of social media playing into future healthcare matters:

The ability to reach a wide audience: the recent Ebola scare highlighted the need to find and make use of communication channels where information is passed along quickly to the target audience. Within hours of the first outbreak, discussions were rife on social media. Target patients were given the right information, how to be diagnosed, and where to go for treatment. According to Moorehead et al (2013), more than half of the people on social media have access to information on their own health or the health of loved ones through social media.  The numbers of people using social media are growing daily having reached and based on the billion marks. Therefore, these platforms provide an ideal way of reaching the targeted population easily.

Real-time feedback: the CDC has in the past been faulted for being reactionary rather than precautionary. In many cases, in the past, the organization only came to play when the diseases had already spread and disaster was looming. Today, however, social media has provided a platform through which they can gauge various diseases through real-time feedback. This has in turn reduced the possibility and potential of real-time outbreaks. Hawn (2009) states that social media can be used to gauge what the public thinks about various health topics. Through discussions on social media, public health organizations can gauge which information is missing and how to disseminate it.

Gaining public trust: through social media interaction, direct engagement with patients is increased. As such, the patients and the public are cange the information they are receiving on health. The result is an increased level of functional trust between public health organizations which are no longer considered tight-lipped and the potential patients and citizens.

While the potential for the success of social media in healthcare is great, the data gathered on this topic is neither sufficient nor conclusive.  Some researchers feel that information shared on social media platforms generates a sense of panic which in turn are detrimental to dealing with health scares.

Recommended mitigation efforts

Social media in public health will only work if it is integrated into traditional healthcare.  A major error comes in when policymakers assume that social media can stand alone, independently, and as a separate entity. Chou et al (2009) show that the strategy that works is that which is integrated and works together;   that which is effective works for both the traditional as well as social media provision of service. Just because new technology has come in, emphasizing the faster provision of service does not mean that research and previous strategies of providing healthcare are no longer valid.

Social media engagement involves two teams of people who are communicating and engaging on topics of healthcare. For public health organizations, this translates into the use of social media tools which can be applied to identify topics of interest and the information flow among users.  This is especially useful in gauging the interest in emergencies, preparedness, and issues that require immediate addressing.  The ability to listen and address the various issues correctly comes from keen listening by the professionals.  Information gaps can be quickly filled and addressed to ensure that the knowledge of the public is adequate.

Social media should be designed based on community engagement.  Communities such as those dedicated to substance abuse and mental healthcare are an important platform for the dissemination of information.  It is important to seek new ways to put input and feedback on various topics of interest to these communities. With such communities, patients who have a tight schedule, who need immediate assistance, and others can get what they want at the exact time that they need it. Perhaps the biggest challenge in community engagement is the control of the message and discussions posted on the social media platforms. There are chances that the topics may be hijacked and therefore taken away from the matters at hand. This means that close monitoring of social media analysis is important and vital.  Social media provides a platform through which public health can be taken directly to the consumer.  The responsive strategy of social media will assist public health to reduce risk and ensure accuracy in providing the services required by the patients.

How I would use social media to network with peers or professionals in the health field.

Professionals in the healthcare field just like any other professionals can access and use social media to network with their peers and professionals. As a medical professional, I would use social media to debate and share ideas regarding health care policy. Through such engagements, I would be able to familiarize myself with the different ethics of health policies.

Secondly, I would use my blog to encourage healthy habits among my peers. I would encourage healthy living through my posts and updates and answer any questions and concerns that my peers may have. I would also provide my reader’s useful first aid tips for both at home and work use. I would be a social media health advocate (APHA, 2014).

Another use of social media would be to join an online health care professional committee where I would read online articles and conduct my research on the new medical developments. At the same time, I would ask my fellow professionals about the different patient challenges I experience in my line of work. This would also be a perfect opportunity to network and market my skills to potential employers (Beckham, 2011).

One medical organization that posts on social media the Mayo Clinic which begun posting in 2010, the link to its page is www.socialmedia.mayoclinic.org. The clinic has well-established Facebook, Twitter, and youtube pages. Following these pages encourages peer-to-peer learning. Another organization is APHA whose blog link is www.apha.org/apha-communiities-apha-connect.


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