social-media-diagnosisMuch has been said in recent years of the rise to eminence of ‘Doctor Google’ – the public’s propensity to turn to the internet in search of diagnoses rather than heading to see their respective GPs. Where once search engines and so-called ‘online doctors’ were the most popular port of call for ailing individuals, however, it is social media that has since assumed that mantle. Sites like Twitter, Facebook and Google+ have provided the general public with a means of sourcing information quickly and effectively; if they want to find something out, they simply ask their friends. It goes without saying that such a means of garnering medical data has its advantages, but it isn’t without its dangers, too. Take a look at some of the pros and cons of social network diagnoses and decide for yourself whether or not social media has a useful role to play in the healthcare profession…

Pros – There is a school of thought that suggests that social media can be a powerful tool for the betterment of healthcare here in the UK and worldwide. Here are just a few of the positives associated with this form of healthcare data capture:

- Speed – There’s no arguing that social media allows people to gather information very quickly indeed. If a patient is suffering from a minor medical complaint it may take a while to arrange a visit to the GP and seek appropriate treatment, but asking friends who may have experienced the same problem in the past is hardly going to take a moment via social media.
- Efficiency – There’s an argument that, if more people begin to seek diagnoses for minor ailments online through social media, healthcare professionals will have their time wasted less often by hypochondriacs, paranoid new parents and people with head colds or similar problems. A doctor’s time is a precious commodity, so it makes sense to ration it for where it’s really needed.
- Trust & experience – While the majority of patients will trust their doctors and other healthcare professionals, some will still have lingering doubts regarding the accuracy of their diagnoses. Their fellow social media users may be friends, they may be healthcare professionals themselves or they may even have first hand experience of the symptoms being exhibited – either way, those seeking a diagnoses through social media will likely trust their judgements.

Cons – For every suggestion that social media could be used to help accurately diagnose health issues online, there is a corresponding argument that seeks to point out the dangers of such a method. Here are just a few sound reasons why seeking healthcare on Twitter or Facebook may not be such a good idea:

- Accuracy – While some people may be able to boast doctors and surgeons amongst their Facebook friends and Twitter contacts, many won’t be so lucky. Even if patients are connected with healthcare professionals online, diagnosing a medical problem via a list of symptoms alone is no mean feat – this could easily lead to dangerous misdiagnoses.
- Generalisation – Our bodies may react in similar ways to the same illnesses, but unfortunately their repertoire of symptoms is limited. One person’s tension headache may be another’s meningitis. Generalisation of symptoms and treatments by others is a common failing of social media for diagnosis over a professional.
- Intent – Healthcare professionals are called ‘professionals’ for a reason – they’re paid to help people. On the other hand, there’s no guarantee that social media contacts will have one’s best interests at heart, so a seemingly innocent ‘jokey’ response could easily lead to damaging decisions – and that’s saying nothing about those harbouring potentially malicious intent…
- Treatment – While a healthcare professional could conceivably diagnose a medical problem through social media, they won’t be able to prescribe treatment online. In most instances, the best case scenario would be that a patient would be told they had nothing to worry about – otherwise, they’d be sent straight to their GP. 

Social media medics can, it seems, be helpful – but only if individuals know their limits. It makes sense that one could be told that they’re suffering from indigestion or a winter cold via social media and thus not have to bother their GP with a visit, but any incident of doubt ought to result in a trip to the doctor’s. Social media can be used to help the healthcare profession but its most significant advantage is as a sentiment analytics data capture tool, rather than as a online diagnosis tool. If you’d like to make use of social media in the best way possible, take a look at the range of healthcare data capture solutions available on our website instead.