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Many people seek and share health information in social media. Therefore, it is a valuable source for understanding people’s needs, says Meghan Bradway.
Many people seek and share health information in social media. Therefore, it is a valuable source for understanding people’s needs, says Meghan Bradway.

Healthcare workers should use social media more to share health information

People with diabetes are using social media more and more to share and gain knowledge about the disease. Healthcare workers should also use social platforms more, says PhD student Meghan Bradway at the Norwegian Centre for E-health Research.

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“In online forums, people get support from others in the same situation. Therefore, we believe that health professionals should use social media more, to share health information,” says PhD student Meghan Bradway at the Norwegian Centre for E-health Research.

Together with her colleagues Elia Gabarron and Eirik Årsand, she has written a chapter in an international academic book on diabetes and digital health.

Patients are looking for answers

Over many years, the three researchers have studied mobile apps, sensor technology, such as smartwatches, and the use of social media for health purposes. Such self-help tools can make it easier for patients to cope with their illness and improve their quality of life.

“Over 90 percent of the adult population in developed countries is looking for and sharing health information on social media – making it an important source of information about people's needs,” says Bradway.

It is very important for a person with diabetes to monitor their blood sugar levels and keep it stable. If your blood sugar is too high or low, it can cause long-term health damage, as well as poor concentration, dizziness and other discomfort in the moment.

“Health professionals provide training and information to patients. We have found that they are open to discussing data and new technologies. However, doctors and diabetes nurses often do not have the capacity to answer all questions.”

Meghan Bradway and her colleagues have contributed to a book on diabetes and digital health.
Meghan Bradway and her colleagues have contributed to a book on diabetes and digital health.

“Many patients use glucose meters, insulin pumps and other sensor technology. Today patients are hacking these devices to connect to their smartphones and other devices, to make it easier to monitor their health. When health professionals cannot answer questions about all of the data the patient is gathering via these apps, they turn to social media to find answers,” Bradway says.

Healthcare workers hesitate

Even if healthcare workers can reach many by sharing knowledge in social media, they are reluctant to do so.

“In a survey, we asked doctors what they thought about using social media to guide people to health information. Many responded that they would not, because they were uncertain whether the knowledge would be quality assured,” says Bradway.

On the internet, everything is possible. Anyone can publish and share pretty much anything they want, with some exceptions. Misinformation or misunderstandings are a risk to both patients and health professionals.

“Medical associations in the United States and the United Kingdom have provided some guidelines on how doctors, nurses and others can provide quality health information safely and effectively on social media. But most countries are still just beginning to look into it. More guides must be created, including for medical students,” she says.

When the robots answer

In the future, we will have even more opportunities to collect and share data about ourselves.

“This will also be the case with information on health and illness. There will be tools in social media that use algorithms, such as “chatbots". If you allow it, they will be able to collect data from many different sources: from your mobile phone, sensors you carry on your body and things you have published in various social media platforms,” says Bradway.

Algorithms can take these data, then tailor and present information to you via these chatbots. If they are well-made and have good access to data, chatbots can guide us towards improved health and tell us how to better manage illnesses and our overall health, the researcher believes.

“It is important for all of us, not least health professionals, to gain knowledge about the new opportunities so that we can benefit from this,” says Bradway.

Reference:

Gabarron E., Bradway M., Årsand E. (2020). ‘Social media for adults’, in Klonoff D. et al. (ed.) Diabetes Digital Health. Elsevier. ISBN: 9780128174852. Chapter 9 pp. 119-129. Summary