Social media health communities have been quietly reshaping healthcare as part of a growing trend to raise awareness and empower patients. Some medical professionals caution, however, that these websites might contain inaccurate or unsubstantiated information.
It is the next step in the evolution of social gatherings, but with wider reach. Instead of asking a friend or acquaintance to recommend a good doctor or explain how they are coping with disease, you can connect with a larger online community for all sorts of advice and health-related information.
“The Internet allows these conversations to expand beyond our typical geographic confines and connects us with like people faster than ever before,” said Colleen Young, Community Director at Mayo Clinic Connect. The Mayo Clinic was one of the early adopters of social media channels to further health-related discussion.
Engaging with others in a user community has clear benefits that help patients get more out of their professional health encounters, said Professor Eivor Oborn of Britain’s University of Warwick in an email. Oborn recently did research on the benefits of social media health communities.
There are numerous social health communities, such as Mayo Clinic Connect, Health Unlocked and Mumsnet, to name a few. They all have different purposes, functions, and corresponding limitations. Some are frequented by doctors who answer questions and offer advice. Others are patient-based information exchanges.