Social Media, Healthcare, and Ethnic Minorities

By Jeremy Lichtenberger (@ Air_Master_J)

Could social media be just what the doctor ordered for improving health care for minority groups? Quite possibly according to recent data from Pew Research Centers Internet and American Life Project, minority Americans are higher users of mobile Internet access, social media sites, and applications to manage or track their health. These new technologies may be instrumental in addressing health care disparities between minority and non-minority patients by increasing access to education, support, social communities or clinical expertise, and enabling access to care that might otherwise be unavailable.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes health indicators such as life expectancy and infant mortality have improved for most Americans, but some minorities experience a disproportionate burden of preventable disease, death, and disability compared with non-minorities. These disparities are believed to be a combination of genetics, environment, and specific health behaviors. Along with race and economic boundaries, ethnic minorities are generally more passive about health promotion and disease prevention, both because of cultural differentiators and because access to care and care givers has been limited. However, social media is changing that.

Social media crosses cultural and ethnic groups and it has global reach in many countries patients can access Twitter or Facebook and other social communities and location services. Eight in ten Internet users look online for health information and African Americans and Latinos are leading the way using their mobile device to search for health information.

With social media entering mainstream health care communications and more mobile accessibility, this is increasing health-related knowledge across cultural lines. Ethnic minority patients have greater access to information on preventative care and are creating personal connections that influence healthy behavior. As mainstream social communities and condition-specific patient communities such as PatientsLikeMe and CureTogether continue to grow, they will also have an effect on behavior, quality of care and health care outcomes. By gaining the skills and comfort level to talk about medical-related issues, ethnic minority patients can have more productive discussions with their physicians.

Regardless of ethnicity, patients who are informed and have a strong support network have a more positive experience when managing illness. These new technologies are bridging the gap between ethnic minorities and access to medical care. By increasing knowledge and learning how to communicate with doctors, patients can facilitate better diagnostic and therapeutic decisions. Using applications for disease management such as diabetes control, patients can learn to monitor their condition, possibly delay disease progression and potentially narrow the health care disparities.

Social media with its wide reach and accessibility is a powerful tool for increasing participation in healthy behaviors and improving peoples health. Sounds just like what the doctor ordered.



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