Updated 13 March 2014

How the Internet has saved these people's lives

People are turning to the Internet for healthcare advice, and it is important for healthcare professionals to participate in the discussion.

A South Wales mother in, posted a video of her baby having a seizure on Facebook in a desperate bid for help. Incredibly it took just one of her Facebook friends to provide the diagnosis that had eluded her son’s doctor.

It turned out that Evan Owens suffered from reflex anoxic seizures which, while treatable, are extremely rare.

This chance diagnosis provided a lucky break and is just one example of the public health benefits of digital media, says a new article in the Journal of Public Health.

The article goes on to claim that a significant number of people are using the Internet as their main source of health advice and information.

The lead author Patricia Burke-Garcia believes that, because of this trend, it is imperative that healthcare professionals make efforts to participate in these discussions to combat the effects of misinformation.

Read: Check out this map to see if there's flu near you

Little meaningful evaluation

However, the authors lament that there has yet to be much in the way of meaningful investigation into this topic. They do note that the internet has been used to track the spread of disease and in the framing of large-scale debates.

The authors identify a number if future opportunities to utilize the internet in the health sector. Once such area is “buzz monitoring” which could monitor public online conversations on health-related topics to inform future health initiatives. 

Oyinlola Oyebode, a public health researcher at University College London, told Reuters Health in an e-mail that she has seen firsthand the power of digital media in health research. Reports of vomiting on Facebook helped her team identify an additional 80 cases in one disease outbreak, she said.

Recent research

Recent research has discovered that Facebook groups created to focus on specific health topics were effective in encouraging homosexual men to learn about home HIV/Aids testing.

Read: Wristband app tracks your health

Fear mongering?

Asked about online media's habit of fear mongering, Burke-Garcia said new forms of media is no different than traditional ones when it comes to whipping up panic, believing that all types of media are guilty.

Read: Digital cameras track climate change

Healthy lifestyle changes

Burke-Garcia believes that, used well, the Internet offers a way for people to find the advice and support they need as well as growing awareness of the underlying causes of common health issues.

She also notes that the Internet can be useful in situations where sufferers might be discouraged from seeking face-to-face advice, such as on the topics of sexual health. 

To that end, we urge you to ask your pressing, personal question to one of the Health24 Experts.

Oyebode warns, though, that those who are developing online interventions need to be aware of the sedentary habits they could reinforce.

Read more:

Online therapy is taking off around the globe
SA scientists to build first digital human brain 

Digital autopsy can speed things up

Digital tablets help those with vision loss to read




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