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New social health experience: online peers’ influence


SONIA AMBROSIO - - I have looked on the Internet on how to treat ingrown nails. As I was searching for it, I got distracted with an advert on how to use vitamin C to reduce wrinkles. Smile! It is not uncommon to wake up with a headache, sore throat or a pain, and instead of visiting a doctor, you head to the Internet to find out what to do.

The broad range of information and the variety of websites on healthcare is enormous, and one will end up choosing the information and the site that best suits one’s interest.

A Pew Institute survey finds that Internet users have looked online for information about diseases, symptoms, and treatment. People with specific conditions also turn to the Internet to read someone else’s comments, or to find an online support group.

Healthy people also turn to Internet communities to discuss weight, diet and exercise routine. It is almost normal these days for potential patients to check online rankings or reviews of doctors, hospitals and medical facilities.

Health professionals continue — for now — to be the first choice for most people, but online resources, including advice from peers, are becoming a significant source of information. In fact, it is a new trend as well as a lucrative healthcare business model that can have an impact on nursing and medical education.

That seems to be the face of modern medicine: from hospital networks to patient support groups, new media tools like a weblog, instant messaging platforms, video chat and social platforms

are re-engineering the way doctors and patients interact.

In a broad range of academic research articles on the use of social media and health communication, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat are listed as the platforms that have a direct impact on the ability of health organisations to attract new patients.

Health insurance companies are also eyeing the lucrative e-health bazaar — the new golden eggs business enterprise.

Facebook is at the top of the list for driving conversations and marketing. With Facebook Live (streaming live videos), health organisations and health support groups are having an impact on patients sharing their experiences.

Twitter, however, is engaged in promoting health education.

HootSuite’s 2017 Social Media Trends Report for the Health Care Sector forecast that healthcare providers, insurers and life science companies will continue to use Twitter to respond to patient questions, and quickly resolve issues with patients to protect their brand. In Twitter chats, participants use the same hashtag at a specific time. Chats usually last one hour and are advertised on Twitter — participants can join the conversation, but also just see what others are saying.

Instagram, as a tool for brand awareness, can stimulate the discovery of new products and services — especially if millennials are the target group. Instagram can engage the community and be the route for recruiting new employees.

Snapchat, on the other hand, is tailored to reach younger consumers. For that, the content has to be fun and attractive — such as sharing photos of new births in the maternity ward with other young mothers.

Social media is also widely used during a public health crisis. The 2016 Zika outbreak in Central and South America is a good example. The content on the platforms was designed to rapidly spread accurate information to both the healthcare community and the public in general. Experts used their Twitter and Facebook feeds to provide information on symptoms, transmission, localisation and prevention techniques.

It is undeniable that social media’s influence is on the rise, as more people look for health or otherwise information on the Internet. There is a certain pressure on the medical and nursing sectors to adjust to the new generation. The millennials — those born after 1990 — would first turn to social media to consult with friends; then, they would turn to search engines for information on more serious conditions — advice from experts would come much later.

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