The Internet has become a key source of medical consultations for users. Often these diagnoses are not given by professionals but by friends in social networks or on different forums. However, advice given on the web can often have tragic consequences. One such case is the death from pneumonia of a newborn child in 2011, whose mother consulted unqualified users of a web-forum while treating her baby. There are also stories of teenage girls who have harmed their health by following dangerous diets on weight loss forums. Discussions in social networks about treating diseases are now increasingly common.
Online self-treatment shouldn’t be ignored by doctors, states Elena Tarasenko in her report: ‘Doctor 2.0: Professional Communicative Intervention in Social Media Aimed at Improving the Quality of Life and Promotion of Healthy Lifestyle’. Social media should act as a mediator for healthcare, as sites for communication between doctors and users.
This is the first time in Russian science when a researcher has analyzed the content of social communities dedicated to improving the quality of life, prevention of diseases and self-management of chronic ailments in three main social networks ‘Vkontakte’, ‘Facebook’, and ‘Myspace’. Tarasenko also studied professionals’ attitude to possible intervention in such discussions on forums.
The number of communities discussing health problems is growing in leading social networks and LiveJournal, states Tarasenko. And many people associate a healthy lifestyle with losing weight and diets. Hundreds of thousands of people are members of such groups. ‘The new format of mass communication among patients in social networks, which motivates them to actively treat themselves, when doctors don’t comment or evaluate such treatment in social media is sometimes dangerous for patients’ health,’ mentions Tarasenko.
There are communities which promote anorexia among young people, as they call for systematic starvation in order to lose weight. Currently, doctors don’t actively react or respond to such communities, says Tarasenko.
Over the last two years, healthcare professionals have been participating more actively in such social networks as ‘Vkontakte’, Facebook, and ‘Odnoklassniki’. Doctors in these communities try to make patients aware of the risks of such communities. Patients need safe and trust worthy information, which can’t be guaranteed by social media, adds Tarasenko. In general, doctors understand the willingness of users to know more about their diseases over the Internet. At the same time medical professionals try to correct the diagnoses and advice which users get from the web.
Some doctors try to act as moderators of discussions about different ways of treatment, and as a result they guide and facilitate the conversation.
Doctors from private clinics are rather more active in social networks. The medical business uses communication between doctors and patients in social networks as a marketing tool for promoting its services, states Tarasenko. Active participation in social networks is an evident competitive advantage for private clinics, as community members become loyal patients, who have the opportunity to get information about discounts and promotions on medical procedures. At the same time patients use such communities to communicate with doctors and get information about medical services.
Nowadays there are communities in social networks which are moderated by professionals from state centres of healthcare, states Tarasenko. Such communities provoke interest in physical culture and promote a healthy lifestyle. The problem of such communities is the lack of specialist knowledge of moderators, which could help present the information in more personal, dynamic, interactive and understandable way for patients, says Tarasenko.
Moreover it’s also important to post topical content and update webpages regularly in order to attract new members, though it requires additional time, human and financial resources.
Social networks, LiveJournal, and Internet forums should play the role of mediator between doctors and young people. Social media can help to integrate medical professionals into a familiar environment for young people, says the expert. Such positioning of social networks and doctors, who actively use them, can lead ‘to a significant improvement of the situation related to the prevention of diseases and promotion of a healthy lifestyle’, says Elena Tarasenko.