When Over-sharing Is a Good Thing: Health Goes Social

Facebook newsfeeds have become a standard outlet for sharing and reading health updates. From migraines to broken bones, people have become quite comfortable telling (and showing) their social networks just what’s ailing them.

But this trend isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

A recent survey by social media intelligence firm Liquid Grids showed that 30 percent of respondents shared a personal health experience on Facebook or other social sites in the prior three months.

An even higher share of respondents — 80 percent — said they’ve shared news articles about health, and a whopping 85 percent indicated that they would publicly share their health experiences on social media to support others with the same disease.

It’s clear that even though discussing health issues online may seem very personal for some people, it’s continuing to occur at high rates and is having positive consequences.

One of these effects is knowledge. In a national survey, the Pew Research Center discovered that 72 percent of adult Internet users said they have searched online for information about one or more health issues, with popular topics centering on diseases and treatments.

Pew’s research also mirrored Liquid Grids’ findings in that patients and caregivers said they were especially willing to share health-related information in order to help others.

Social media’s implications for healthcare are huge, warranting the attention of companies who work in any area of drug development or patient care. There’s a lot to learn by actively following and tracking what others have to say about their health status. Being aware of these conversations can even boost public health efforts and reduce the possibility of illness spreading.

Just look at the findings from a study headed by Jenine Harris, Ph.D., a researcher at Washington University who examined the Chicago Department of Health’s program FoodBorne Chicago and its implementation of social media. The program’s staff members used Twitter to interact with the public regarding foodborne illness. They responded to 270 tweets over 10 months and provided links to complaint forms. In response, the public filled a total of 193 complaint forms, which led to the inspection of 133 restaurants.

These studies show that when it comes to health care, social media chatter on sickness and disease is more than just a case of over-sharing. From providing support to others with a health condition, to tracking trends and empowering public health efforts, social media is changing the dynamic of healthcare. Tuning into the conversation reveals actionable information that can benefit individuals as well as organizations in the healthcare industry.