Commentary

More Patients Willing To Let Doctors Access Social Media

While medical professionals have been slow to adopt social media for work compared to other industries, ironically patients appear to be more willing to share their own personal social media information with doctors than with others, reflecting the relatively high degree of trust enjoyed by the medical profession (again, I emphasize “relatively”). That’s according to a new study from the medical journal BMJ Quality and Safety, which surveyed over 5,000 emergency room patients about their willingness to link their social media accounts to their medical records.

In the group of survey subjects, over half used Facebook of Twitter, and among these 71% said they would give doctors access to their social media accounts, in order to uncover possible clues to help with diagnosis and treatment. That includes discovering symptoms and behaviors the patient may not have remembered to report to the doctor, as well as adherence to treatment regimens, side effects, and so on. Things like mood can also be important factors in clinical practice.

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Unsurprisingly, younger people were both more likely to use social media and more likely to say they would grant doctors access to their social media plans. The authors acknowledge that significant legal and legislative obstacles remain, as regulators will need to ensure patient privacy and data security before doctors are granted access to such personal information.

Of course, a great deal of information on social media is already publicly available, and doctors can make safe use of it for statistical purposes by “anonymizing” the sources of data.

Last month I wrote about an initiative by pharmaceutical manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline, which has collected a trove of social media data consisting of millions of posts about hundreds of drugs, including reports on adverse effects that actually led to the recall of one drug.

GSK worked with Epidemico, a technology company focused on healthcare insights owned by Booz Allen Hamilton, to surface and analyze 21 million posts mentioning its product on Facebook and Twitter, including 15 million posts on Facebook alone. According to GSK in one year the company collected more reports than the FDA has compiled in its entire database since 1968.

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