Social Media and Our Health


Social Media and Health

Many of you probably thought we were going down the “social media is bad for you” path for this post. There’s little doubt that there is a connection between social media and health (addiction, depression, anxiety, stress), but that’s true of anything we use to excess.

What we are discussing today is the positive relationship between social media and health care. Let’s assume social media in some form or another is here to stay. Its impact on our lives is varied, but in this context, it’s very important to note social media has drastically changed how we garner, engage and create information, especially as it pertains to content about our health and well-being.

Let’s assume social media in some form or another is here to stay. Its impact on our lives is varied, but in this context, it’s very important to note social media has drastically changed how we garner, engage and create information, especially as it pertains to content about our health and well-being.

Who is Using Social Media?

Who is using social media? Consumers. Younger people are generally the early adopters, but “as more Americans have adopted social media, the social media user base has also grown more representative of the broader population,” (“Social Media Fact Sheet,” Pew Research Center).

Who is Using Social Media for Health?

Who is using social media when it comes to health? Anecdotally, when it comes to social media and health it’s clear that it is where many of us go first when it comes to researching and making decisions.

Today, 69 percent of the general public use some form of social media. Back in 2011, 74 percent of internet users were engaging on social media, and 80 percent of those were specifically looking for health information. Nearly half were searching for information about a specific doctor or health professional (“Health Topics,” Pew Research Center).

Further, a PricewaterhouseCoopers report on social media and health care indicates that 42 percent of individuals viewing health information on social media look at health-related consumer reviews.

With so many people going to social media for answers to their health care questions, more and more content is being created, curated, and re-purposed to meet the demand.

Share on Social

While there is a lot of qualified, helpful information about our health being published online, as users, we are also sharing more and more on social media about our health. And social media is making it easier.

Fitness communities and exercise trackers like Strava, apps like MyFitnessPal, and wearables like Fitbit collect data (which we provide) and package it for social sharing.

They buzz when we should be moving around, they let us know whether we’re on track for today’s health and wellness goals, they prompt us to tell our friends and family.

These communities, apps, and services also provide content of their own, helping their user base understand how to use their products and services best, or advising whether we “Should You Really Take 10,000 Steps a Day?”. Or providing us with “Six Ways to Prioritize Wellness in Daily Life”.

“Share [activity] on social!” The social platforms du jour are peppered with posts about our exercise habits, how much we’ve eaten (or haven’t eaten), how much water we need to drink and how much sleep we’ve been getting. Whether sharing our own activities, or our network’s, the information usually serves as positive motivation for all concerned. Social media and health tend to walk hand-in-hand these days.

A Question For My Network

Social Media has also become a defacto forum for FAQs regarding our health. “Ninety percent of people aged 18 to 24 stated they trust medical info shared on their social feeds,” according to PwC Health Research Institute.

Obviously, there are inherent dangers in making any decision based on research found online, much less a decision about our health. However, the issue isn’t whether that’s good or bad. Rather, it’s important to acknowledge that people are looking for answers, and social media is influencing the health decisions they make.

Social Listening and Health

People air issues about health care on their social media channels. While this may come across as a negative effect on social media and health care, the fact is these conversations are happening, and if social media helps healthcare organizations to listen and participate in those conversations, that’s a good thing.

The PwC Health Research Institute report states: “Liking, following, linking, tagging, stumbling: social media is changing the nature of health-related interactions”. And they don’t just mean asking questions on social media about our health.

“When I was in the ER last night, I tweeted about the interminable wait. It seemed as though people who weren’t that sick got whisked in ahead of me! Guess what? Someone from the hospital heard me! They spotted my tweet and responded. And even sent someone down to talk to me in person.” (An anecdote from the PwC Health Research Institute report).

These activities, this sharing, these conversations, provide health care organizations with opportunities to interact on social media about health, health care, and their products and services. Listening on social media is just as important as sharing and talking.

The Takeaway

When we say “social media and health,” our first reaction may not be a positive one. Social media can oftentimes come across as pervasive, but whether in a positive or negative manner, social media is where we go when we have a question, when we need an answer, when we need help.

The healthcare industry is also mobilizing on the social networks. The conversations on social media about health and wellness are a huge opportunity for them, and their audience.

Sifting through the noise, and filtering it, can be challenging, but we live in a world of information and content sharing. Whether we are asking how much disability insurance we need, or relying on social media for answers to our health questions and concerns, the information is there. Learning how to separate the so-called wheat from the chaff when it comes to social media and health, or for any subject matter, is an important skill in our age of information.