Doctors may be rightfully skeptical of internet-based diagnoses, but patients are increasingly using social media in a variety of other ways when they get sick. A survey of about 1,000 US adults by consulting house PwC Health Industries found that a third of them had shared health information or solicited advice through social media, including Facebook and Twitter. As you might expect, that number was far higher for younger adults: 80 percent of those 18 to 24 said they would be willing to share health information over social media (even if they hadn't necessarily done it), compared to 45 percent of those 45 to 64. Even so, that's a large group across the board. A third of consumers said they would even be willing to have social media messages monitored if it would "identify ways to improve their health or better coordinate care."
In the survey, sharing health information could count as anything from swapping recipes designed for people with diabetes to leaving a comment about service quality on a hospital's Facebook wall. The most common single activity was supporting a health-related cause, which 28 percent of people said they had done. It's certainly interesting that people are willing to publicly share or pool information. For care providers, it also apparently puts them on a new timeline: 70 percent respondents said they would expect providers to respond within a day to social media requests for information, and 40 percent said they would expect a response within a few hours.
Sites like Facebook and Twitter are often less anonymous than forums or other sites, but this news shouldn't come as a huge surprise. People with medical conditions, from autism to depression, have long turned to online support and information-sharing groups. The unified identity created by many social media sites, however, may make it easier for hospitals to reach out to patients directly by checking and responding to Facebook and Twitter missives.