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Social media and health and social care

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Matthew Moran
3 May 2011

I've started tracking examples of social media use in health and social care contexts. One thing that is clear is that self-reported patient information on social networks may be used with proper safeguards as research data. Two recent examples:

PloS One (the peer-review and publishing site) is carrying a study of data submitted by members of TuDiabetes (an international network of diabetes sufferes), which finds that online social networks 'may comprise efficient platforms for bidirectional communication with and data acquisition from disease populations.  Advancing this model for cohort and translational science and for use as a complementary surveillance approach will require understanding of inherent selection and publication (sharing) biases in the data and a technology model that supports autonomy, anonymity and privacy.'

A similar study in the Journal Med Internet Research last year looked at Patientslikeme, an online quantitative research platform where patients report on their conditions and treatment, connect with other patients with similar demographic and clinical characteristics, and learn from the aggregated data reports. The study considered the possible advantages of the network in terms of treatment decisions, symptom management, clinical management, and outcomes. 'We have established that members of the community reported a range of benefits, and that these may be related to the extent of site use. Third party validation and longitudinal evaluation is an important next step in continuing to evaluate the potential of online data-sharing platforms.'

In other words, both studies indicate that social media offer a viable source of data for health and social care research, but that care is needed when collecting, verifying, interpreting and sharing this category of information. There is scope here for us to refer module teams to this potential of social networks, and to support them in devising suitable activities based on HSC-related networks. HSC students need certain skills in order to engage effectively with social networks in their professional practice.


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