Guest post from Dr. Shyamali Singhal, MD
Founder of Hope & Beauty
Social Media Can Be Riddled With False Information- Learn How To Recognize Them
Although very important and common in practice, limited effort has gone into understanding the driving factors behind the diffusion of cancer information on social media.
With the rising numbers of cancer occurrence around the world, it comes as no surprise that cancer has become one of the most Googled keywords in the disease category. It is estimated that approximately 2.3 million people living with cancer worldwide are also online, sometimes surfing in search of answers to their life-changing diagnosis. Some 89% of people diagnosed with cancer will at some time go online to seek for more information about their illness. But how can patients steer through the jungle of online health information without getting misinformed or even scammed?
Have you ever shared the details of your medical diagnosis on social media? Haven’t we all, right? Many people with skin cancer use social media as a tool to provide and receive comfort, share new treatment research, and engage with other patients, physicians, and resources. When used wisely, platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram can be great tools for connecting with valuable people in our lives. Unfortunately, social media also provides opportunities for the rapid spread of misinformation and may not provide the same benefits as personal interactions.
More And More Patients Are Using The Internet To Learn About Their Disease
With the rise of social media, patients are becoming more active in their healthcare decisions and seeking more personalized care. Through the internet, they educate themselves about diagnoses, treatment options, prognoses, and channels for emotional support. Patients learn from the internet in two ways: purely informational sources and through communities.
There has been a noticeable shift in the public perception from the doctor as an authority figure to one of more patient participation. Patients are asking more questions, and realizing that they do have a role in decision-making. Before the internet era, the tendency was to be more passive and defer to one’s doctors; now patients are using the Internet to collect information and approach their physicians with questions relevant to their care. The result is a more empowered, educated patient group. Patients can use social media to make sure that they’re getting optimal treatment, to learn about the risks and benefits of treatments that they’re receiving, and just, in general, becoming their advocates.
Ups And Downs Of Using Social Media As A Source Of Medical Information
Dr. Shyamali Singhal, surgical oncologist and founder of H&B, said that Social Media has become an everyday feature of our constantly connected world. Social Media is broadly defined as mobile and Web-based technologies with very interactive platforms where people and communities can share, co-create, discuss, and modify user-generated content. Approximately eight out of ten adults with internet access in the United States are Facebook users, one-quarter of online Americans use Twitter, and approximately one-third use either Instagram, LinkedIn, and Pinterest. Many Social Media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have cancer-specific targeted content.
Potential Benefits Of This Trend
SM may provide several benefits throughout the cancer journey.
Patient Engagement and Empowerment
Patient engagement is a symbiotic relationship between patients and health care professionals to “promote and support active patient and public involvement in healthcare and strengthen their influence on healthcare decisions, at both the individual and collective levels.”
Psychosocial support checks upon cancer-related psychological distress. Adequate social support is associated with greater physical and mental health-related quality of life. More general social support networks are also linked with better recovery prediction after breast cancer treatment, while social isolation is connected with higher all-cause mortality. Social isolation was linked with more moderate rates of physical activity and with obesity, smoking, and excessive alcohol use, all known factors that are deleterious to human health.
Potential Drawbacks Of Social Media- Based Information Sourcing
Although the potential benefits of SM are noteworthy, drawbacks should be considered.
Social Media May Not Be a Substitute for In-Person Support
Social support from Social Media ranges from infrequent and unstructured to regularly scheduled formal online support groups. Social Media may provide adequate support in some circumstances and not in others. For example, people with depression sometimes express their distress online, yet may not reveal their condition to someone in person, which could hinder treatment.
The integrity and quality of online health information can be inaccurate and should not be a replacement for professional medical advice. It should be regarded as a starting point to gather information that can be presented to the care team. Many sources give medically incorrect, inadequate, and improper treatment options and advice. Patients may even use online information to try to justify nonadherence to professional medical advice.
Dr. Shyamali always advises patients to do their own research, but to check with their doctor about any and every medical advice they find online.