Social media is an internet-based communication medium that allows users to network, share, and discuss various relevant topics. A significant portion of the population has access to an internet connection, and use at least one social media tool for personal, business, educational, or organizational purpose. Nevertheless, the use of social media has both benefits and limitations, as found in the healthcare sector.
Firstly, social media provides a platform where healthcare stakeholders can access health-related information. Hao & Gao (2017) reports that more than 67% of people who access the internet are medial social users. Therefore, there is huge traffic of information sent and received through social media, and the traffic may be leveraged to ensure straightforward access to healthcare information. For instance, people or organizations may create social media groups or forums where tailored information is disseminated, and specific questions or issues addressed. According to Schofield et al., (2019), some healthcare organizations in the UK use social medal features such as Facebook private groups, where members share common healthcare interests. They add that such groups are a safe environment for members to research, raise issues, and discuss issues with confidence and privacy. For instance, senior practitioners can guide entry-level practitioners on matters that would otherwise be hardly be discussed in workplaces. Also, community members of such groups may access critical information regarding community health, such as disease prevention and control (Chau et al., 2018). For instance, WHO’s social media profiles have been valuable sources of information regarding Covid-19 since its outbreak. Thus, social media enables straightforward access to health-related information for both practitioners and the community.
Secondly, social media enables an extensive reach for healthcare practitioners. This is important for both patients and healthcare workers. For instance, people in remote areas may network with specialists through social media and receive guidance that would otherwise be unavailable in the local community. Similarly, practitioners may reach out to one another to brainstorm various healthcare issues, thus promoting better health outcomes. Besides, healthcare practitioners are now coming together to form functional or multifunctional teams, which work together, leveraging their diversities, skills, and training (Morley & Cashell, 2017). Such multifunctional teams bring together health practitioners from the various specialty. Morley & Cashell (2017) explain that such teams increase the level of understanding between healthcare workers and foster collaboration. Besides, bridging the physical gap between healthcare practitioners increases the range of opportunities, regarding career, education, and promotions. For instance, practitioners can identify vacancies, workshops, or scholarships promptly over social media platforms. Hence, social media increase the range if networking of practitioners, to leverage the benefits of collaboration and increase range of opportunities.
However, social media has several weaknesses, such as limits of quality of healthcare information. According to recent studies, more than half of internet users get health information from online sources, including social media (Zhao & Zhang, 2017). Due to the demand for health-related information, many people have monetized their social media profiles by posting health-related content. However, some are not qualified, registered, or licensed healthcare practitioners, causing an influx of poor-quality health information and scams (Sommariva et al., 2018). Other studies have concluded that due to the increased sources of poor-quality information on social media, healthcare information sourced from social media platforms risk unreliability and have increased quality concerns (Roland, 2018). Besides fake sources of information, qualified practitioners are often hesitant in offering health-related information, due to inconvenience for offering holistic medical care. For instance, a patient may inquire about their health, and misdescribe their condition leading to wrong guidance or diagnosis. In such cases, healthcare practitioners would be a source of fake information, which is against the health practitioners’ ethical codes and guidelines. Thus, social media limits the quality of networking and help regarding health that is offered online.
Additionally, social media increases the risk of a privacy breach and social stigma. Social medial has a level of openness, which promotes networking. However, increased openness increases the risk of privacy breach for both practitioners and healthcare clients. According to a recent study, most often, healthcare practitioners are less diligent about privacy issues when using social media (Henning et al., 2017). Therefore, they may end up compromising HIPAA privacy policies on social media to incur stiff fines. Such compromise may include leaking patient-related information or sensitive organization information. Besides privacy issues, social media users are at an increased risk of stigma. For instance, people may use the power of social media features such as retweets and other reactions to spread hateful or controversial information about a healthcare practitioner or an organization. Since there is seldom a chance to verify the information shared on social media, the results may be detrimental regardless of the legitimacy of information shared. That may lead to stigma, where a healthcare practitioner’s career is damaged, or an organization fails in the market. Therefore, information shared in social media requires diligence, as users may compromise HIPAA privacy policies or end up stigmatized.
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