Ethics, Use, and Misuse of Social Media in Healthcare
How we interact with each other has undergone a significant transformation due to our reliance on various forms of social media around the clock. In healthcare, the trend is no different than elsewhere. According to National Library of Medicine data, approximately 40% of patients now use social media to gather crucial information about their health concerns.
As a result, medical practitioners have begun leveraging these digital channels like WhatsApp consultation to better connect with patients and other healthcare professionals alike. As encouraging as this newfound ease of communication might be, ethical questions and potential hazards must be dealt with sooner rather than later.
How Social Media Revolutionized the Healthcare Industry?
Social media has significantly impacted the healthcare industry, from changing how patients interact with healthcare providers to providing new patient education and engagement opportunities.
Some ways in which social media has revolutionized the healthcare industry include:
Communication between patients and physicians has seen a positive shift since the introduction of social media platforms like Twitter, Whatsapp, and Facebook. Today patients can leverage these channels to connect with their healthcare providers, clarify doubts or concerns, and obtain emotional assistance.
In addition to Whatsapp, Twitter, and Facebook, many healthcare professionals also use WhatsApp to communicate with patients. While this can be a convenient way to share clinical pictures and other information, it is essential to remember that WhatsApp consultation may not be the most secure or professional platform for healthcare communication.
Social media platforms can spread health information and educate patients about important health issues like disease prevention and management. They can also increase patient expectations of care delivery via WhatsApp consultation leading to pressure on healthcare professionals to be available. But this can be challenging and compromise patient safety if healthcare professionals cannot provide timely and accurate information.
One advantage of social media in healthcare is that it can increase patient awareness and engagement. For example, Instagram and YouTube channels can effectively share health information and promote healthy behaviors.
Social media has given patients a powerful voice in advocating for their health needs and shaping public policy around healthcare.
Social media data can be used to research patient behavior, preferences, and outcomes.
The Ethics Surrounding Social Media Use in Healthcare
Social media use in healthcare is subject to ethical standards to protect patients and healthcare providers. The American Medical Association provides guidelines to address potential ethical concerns, such as disclosing conflicts of interest, maintaining professional boundaries, and preserving patient confidentiality.
The American Medical Association (AMA) has provided insightful guidance for physicians who use the Internet for social networking. According to the AMA, it is recommended that physicians use privacy settings to protect their personal information and content.
Alternatively, it is even better to keep private and professional sectors separate. This advice can help physicians maintain their privacy and professional reputation while engaging in social networking.
Healthcare providers must also work within the boundaries established by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) to ensure patient privacy is protected and sensitive information is not inadvertently shared.
Healthcare professionals need to maintain appropriate boundaries on social media, just as they would in face-to-face interactions with patients. This means avoiding personal or inappropriate communication and being mindful of patient privacy and confidentiality.
The Misuses of Social Media in the Health Industry
Social media can be a valuable tool for the health industry, providing a way to connect with patients, share information and resources, and build relationships with other healthcare professionals. However, there are also risks associated with the misuse of social media in the health industry.
Some potential misuses of social media include:
● Using WhatsApp as a primary communication medium: Technology helped us to improve communication. But in medical emergencies, many people use Whatsapp messaging instead of making a direct call. This behavior is completely inappropriate and compromises the safety and quality of medical attention. Please read this study which focuses on WhatsApp messaging service within emergency surgical teams.
● Violation of patient privacy: Sharing confidential patient information on social media can violate privacy laws and ethical guidelines.
● Spread of misinformation: Social media can be a powerful tool for spreading false or misleading information about health and medical issues.
● Inappropriate communication: Healthcare professionals must maintain appropriate boundaries with patients on social media, avoiding personal or inappropriate communication that could compromise their professionalism.
● Conflict of interest: Healthcare professionals who promote specific products or services on social media may be perceived as having a conflict of interest, potentially compromising their credibility and integrity.
How Can We Avoid the Misuses?
To avoid these misuses of social media in the health industry, it is important to establish clear policies and guidelines for social media use, train healthcare professionals on appropriate use and conduct regular audits to ensure compliance with relevant laws and regulations.
Using social media responsibly and ethically allows healthcare professionals to leverage its benefits while avoiding potential risks.
Social media has significantly changed the healthcare industry, providing new opportunities for patient education, communication, and advocacy. However, with these opportunities come ethical concerns and risks.
The responsible use of social media can significantly benefit the healthcare industry, empowering patients and improving health outcomes. Let us use social media as a tool for positive change and innovation in healthcare while maintaining the highest ethical standards and protecting the interests of patients and healthcare providers alike.