Web 2.0 and social media: Ushering a healthcare revolution
In recent times, people are turning to the Internet to know their health status and to better educate themselves. Web 2.0 platforms are ideal for hosting online communities since they encourage user-generated content and are easy to use. Also, social media are increasingly being used to empower and engage consumers & providers in healthcare.
The concept of Web 2.0 has come into existence for the sole purpose of providing a viable platform through which people can connect, collaborate and contribute content. In the initial years of the Internet, it was seen as a medium through which people could get quick access to information. In the recent times, it has grown exponentially and it is no longer just a source of information but much more. That is precisely what constitutes this next generation of the Internet or the Web 2.0. As the original architect of this novice idea, Tim O’Reilly defined Web 2.0 as:‘A set of economic, social and technology trends that collectively form the basis for the next generation of the Internet- a more mature distinctive medium characterised by user participation, openness and network effects.’
He goes on to say that Web 2.0 thrives on network effects; databases that get richer the more people interact with them, applications that are smarter the more people use them, marketing that is driven by user stories and experiences and applications that interact with each other to form a broader computing platform.
The first generation of the Internet used to be a medium where people had access to information produced by an organisation where the people accessing it would not have any control or capability to contribute. But in Web 2.0, people not only have access to information, they are also able to contribute information on the Internet, share it with friends, people at large and thereby increasing the knowledge base as time passes. Some of the examples of Web 2.0 technology enabled Internet sites include Wikis, blogs, podcasting, book marking, RSS feeds, mashups and networking services such as Facebook and Twitter.
Nowadays, organisations of all forms and fabric have joined in the social bandwagon realising the reach which this medium has as its potential. And one of the recent recruits into this is healthcare. Healthcare over the years has been a varied and complex industry and many say that it is a recession-proof industry. As long as there are people in this world, they could fall sick and hence hospitals will have to come up to cater to these ill people. For the institution of an effective treatment plan, social media also has an important role to play.
From times immemorial, patients have been told what to do and they had no source of information on either self-management of the disease or seek support from people elsewhere suffering from a similar kind of problem. Over a period of time, this has changed. Patients now want to understand the disease that they are suffering from, and Internet has helped in many ways in solving this. Nowadays, patients learn online about the disease, its causes and steps to prevent it or how to manage it efficiently. It serves as a unique source of education to people worldwide.
Previously, the pitfalls faced by patients inclued being ignorant on their problems and where they have been asked to follow whatever was told as the first generation of healthcare. But now there is a new perspective to healthcare known as the Health 2.0. Healthcare 2.0 is the application of Web 2.0 technologies and architecture for the betterment of patients and their families.
According to a new research by Russel Herder from a Minneapolis marketing firm, people of late have used social media to disclose illness with terms such as ‘I tested positive for’ or ‘I have been diagnosed with’, etc.
Also, according to the PEW Internet Project survey, health information is the third most popular online pursuit. The results of the survey suggest that health information is one of the hottest topics online today with 80 per cent of Americans using the Internet to research wide areas such as diseases, procedures, doctors, hospitals, drugs, test results and insurance. This is especially valid when people look out for information before or immediately after a visit to the doctor.
The most likely groups to look online for health information include caregivers, women, young adults and adults with at least some college education. The survey measured 60 per cent of the Internet users have interest to look up information for some specific diseases or a medical problem. And 50-60 per cent of Internet users look online for information about a certain medical treatment or procedure. Whereas, 44 per cent of Internet users look online for information about doctors or other healthcare professionals.
This is ostensibly true that the reach of this medium around the world has grown by leaps and bounds and especially in relation to healthcare. Nowadays, the treatment prescribed by the doctor is being searched online for its efficacy and superlative capabilities. But for people who seek medical information online, the following pointers are invaluable.
These few guidelines help in getting appropriate and the most helpful information from the Internet and to prevent mishaps of any nature. As a result of many research works around the world, people including physicians and hospitals have realised that the time has come when healthcare is definitely going ‘online’.
Why social media?
For many of us, who wonder what these Internet sites such as Facebook and Twitter have got to do with patients and diseases; following are some of the uses of social media in healthcare from the patient’s point of view:
Share patient experiences
Seek support from fellow citizens
Connect with people with similar problems
Help to choose hospitals and doctors
Source of information
Prevention of diseases
Means of self-empowerment
According to the National Research Corp’s Ticker survey, 94 per cent of the respondents have used Facebook to search for information on illness and healthcare, 18 per cent used Twitter and Myspace. Hence, these will help us to better understand the problem on hand and eventually manage the disease better or prevent it as after all ‘prevention is better than cure’. And when asked about the level of trust on these sites, 32 per cent said ‘very high’ and only 7.5 per cent said ‘very low’.
From a provider’s point of view:
Better way to connect with patients
A wonderful marketing tool to let the world know about their hospitals and services
To showcase patient experiences
Patient education on diseases, treatment and prevention
To raise money for charity to build hospitals, treat chronic patients
To build loyalty
A whole new way to connect
The flipside to all the goodies which come with social media is that we currently have no regulations regarding its usage in healthcare. People are still ignorant on how best to use these social media to attain better health. Some of these problems can be solved by organising regular events or workshops that can enlighten the layman on these lines.
We have seen over the years that social media platforms have been susceptible to offensive activities and online exploitation of people.
As Chenik M, Bolinder G and Juth N said in their article ‘Social media changes the professional-patient relationship. Clarification of ethical guidelines concerning social network on the internet is necessary,’ the effect of social media on healthcare needs to have a clear and precise understanding in terms of ethical guidelines and limitations of their usage.
Efforts to increase the awareness on social media to its consumers is the need of the hour. Social media in the present generation have definitely got an outstanding effect on the lives of people but to make this life more ‘healthier’, it will take a lot of effort from both the regulators as well as self-discipline from its consumers in being appropriate to achieve what it started out for.