Social networking websites have become increasingly popular in recent years. Kerri Breen of the CBC News reports that YouTube has become the third most popular website in the world, Facebook now has over 200 million users, and Twitter has grown 2,565 percent in the past year. Through the new channels offered by these social networking websites and tools, users can discuss anything from cat toys to a bothersome rash on their arms.
The ever-increasing popularity of these Web 2.0 sites offers new opportunities for their application to improve health and medical care. The New York Times reports that during the last week of April, “Swine Flu” was the most searched term on Yahoo, the Wikipedia page on “Swine influenza” received 1.3 million page views, and an estimated 125,000 tweets a day on Twitter mentioned the illness. Despite this increase in discussion about the virus, Alessio Signorini, a PhD candidate in Computer Science at the University of Iowa, told the NYT that this “noise” does not indicate actual trends in the spread of the virus. Dr. Philip Polgreen further explained that by tracking indicators within popular search terms, such as symptoms of a condition or virus, it is possible to better track its spread and plan more effectively for inoculations.
Growth in Internet use has also led to a rise in self-diagnosis and/or self-prescription. Through tools like Twitter or Facebook, individuals can simply state that they do not feel well, and are much more likely to do so than to visit a doctor. While this could potentially lead to their not getting necessary treatment, other forms of web use may help to ease discomfort, physical and/or psychological, caused by certain conditions. A number of websites have been introduced which allow patients with specific conditions (e.g., MS, diabetes, eczema) to form a community. ABC Health and Wellbeing reports that research indicates that patients with psoriasis indicated their perceived quality of life had improved following the use of these online support websites. Center for Connected Health and Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital researchers have also found that these online networks provide a valuable base of information and support to patients, and that health outcomes can be further improved through physician involvement.
A number of social networking websites have also been developed to allow physicians, clinicians, researchers, and medical specialists to link to one another and discuss various areas of their practice. In addition to sites which allow doctors to create social connections, others, like iCons in Medicine, provide the opportunity for healthcare providers in remote or medically underserved areas to request assistance on difficult cases from physicians in 30 medical specialties. Through these teleconsultations and the social networking tools provided by programs like iCons in Medicine, doctors can collaborate on difficult cases and improve patient health at the point of care.
Find out more about iCons in Medicine