COUNTERPOINT: Social Media Hurts Patients’ Health Decisions

This post is part of a series of point/counterpoint arguments proposed by different members of the Pixels & Pills staff. Were strong believers that healthy arguments can yield the best solutions, and we hope that you enjoy our series. Feel free to add your own arguments in the comments section below!

By Russ Ward (@russcward)

Sometimes, social media can be just what the doctor ordered.

There’s a sense of safety from typing on a computer screen instead of standing up in a room full of people:

  • If your condition carries a negative social stigma
  • If youre still having trouble coming to terms with your diagnosis and are too much in denial to go to a support group meeting
  • If you haven’t told everyone in your life yet
  • If youre trying to get on with living and cant take too much time to find information

For all of these reasons, patients can find security and freedom in social media and use it to help build their understanding and their support network as they make their health decisions.


It would be ideal if this was the way it was, period. It would be ideal if those were the only affects that social media could have on patients health. But thats just not the case.

Here are a few examples of how social media can hurt patients health decisions.

  1. Social media can give bullies that same freeing sense of anonymity that we talked about above. What a patient might not have seen as a life-changing condition before can cause them crippling shame and embarrassment if it falls into the sights of a bully who attacks them on social media.
  2. Social media can be a crutch. Its one thing to use social media for initial forays into the patient-education experience, but it can make it all too easy to isolate your condition from the rest of your life – or worse, to isolate yourself from real life around you.
  3. Social media is the wisdom of the crowd. Studies have proven that crowdsourced information is likely to be self-correcting, accurate and rapidly updated. But there are always mistakes. And worse, your own social circle is far more prone to error, just by virtue of its size. Wikipedia gets viewed and corrected by millions. A patients Facebook wall? Probably not. They can be guided by the most well-meaning friends to believe untruths – insulting, hurtful, or medically dangerous – and what were also seeing is that people are increasingly likely to act on data that they learn from their social networks.

What does this mean for us and our work? Certainly, I still believe were doing the right thing. I tweet (my Twitter handle’s right at the top of this post), I’m on Facebook and LinkedIn, I check out videos on YouTube, and so on and so forth. I’ve even helped build some social media applications that are not only award-winning, but groundbreaking.

But I also believe that those points above are true. I believe very strongly that we have to consider the negative side of things along with the potential. We absolutely cant help pharma social media concepts come into being without thinking about what might go wrong with them when theyre put into use.



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