A new study from BYU finds that while most of us go online
regularly for help in diagnosing health issues, very few of us actually post
information, questions or experiences on health topics.
“Less than 15% of us are posting the health information that
most of us are consuming,” said Rosemary Thackeray, BYU professor of health
science and lead author of the study appearing in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.
What the study showed
According to the study data, more than 60% of Internet users
go online for health help, looking for advice, digging up user experiences on
social media and consulting online reviews in hunt of health providers and
health care facilities.
Thackeray believes if people were more “social” about health
information on social media, the better the information would become.
“If you only have a few people sharing their experience with
using a painkiller, that’s different than 10 000 people doing that,” Thackeray
said. “If we’re really going to use this social media aspect, there needs to be
a true collective wisdom of the crowds.”
According to data Thackeray and BYU colleagues Ben Crookston
and Josh West used from the Pew Internet and American Life Project, three-quarters
of people begin their hunt for medical or health information online by using a
search engine such as Google or Yahoo.
By the end of their search, nearly a third have used social
networking sites (Facebook, Twitter) for health- related activities while 41 percent
have consulted online rankings or reviews of doctors and health care
However, only 10% of respondents actually posted reviews and
15% posted comments, questions or information when it came to health-related
Social media won’t
replace actual healthcare
“The inherent value of ‘social’ in social media is not being
captured with online health information seeking,” Thackeray said. “Social media
is still a good source of health information, but I don’t think it’s ever going
to replace providers or traditional health care sources.”
But, the researchers say social media could be more valuable
to all parties if more people joined in on the health discussion. Patients
could become more empowered and doctors could be more aware of the public
discourse around certain medical issues.
The challenge now is how to get more people to contribute
health info on social media sites.
“We’re just not there yet, but we’ll probably get there in
the future,” Thackeray said.