In an age where Internet surfers are increasingly concerned about privacy matters and keeping their online lives separate from real life, it turns out that when it comes to medical information, most people are okay with the two merging. In fact, according to a recent Reuters report, as many as 71 percent of 5,000 patients asked in a study, published in the medical journal BMJ Quality and Safety, were perfectly fine with letting their doctors view their social media activity.
In the study, researchers determined that what we share online leaves clues into our attitudes and activities, which influence our health. Our activity on Facebook and Twitter can provide information on the beginning stages of disease, how patients manage medical conditions, and if there are links to disease progression, says Dr. Raina Merchant, director of the Penn Medicine Social Media and Health Innovation Lab. In an email to Reuters, she adds, “This information is in the form of posts, check-ins, photos, and other data,” providing a picture of our overall health.
Also noted in the study, younger patients who were active on social media and insured through private health plans, were more trusting and more likely to grant access to their accounts. Among patients who did not want to share their social media with doctors, the primary reason cited was privacy concerns and the fear that their online identity could affect their employment. This is a realistic concern, considering that breaches, such as the recent UCLA hack of over 4.5 million medical records, do occur.
While the time when our social media profiles can be useful in identifying and diagnosing health concerns might seem far off, giving social media access to doctors and medical health providers might already be able to save lives or deliver better care. Twitter and Facebook data is already being used in the medical field to rate hospitals according to trustworthiness, patient care, and satisfaction, and as a method of communicating with health care professionals from home.