SOCIAL MEDIA & SOCIAL SUPPORT IN HEALTHCARE
Social media has had a huge impact within the healthcare industry for several years and the significance of social media has risen to new heights in 2020 due to the sudden strike of COVID-19. Social media provides a space that allows the general public to share and discuss their experiences with those who are diagnosed with similar condition, while also enabling healthcare professionals to share their knowledge and educate the general public on their health related concerns. There is no doubt that social media had brought positive impact within the healthcare industry, however I could not help but wonder what are the motivational factor that drives users to view social media as their first approach when it comes to seeking medical help.
Colineau et al describes that the use of social media by patients was not intended to circumvent healthcare professionals, but rather as a compliment to the healthcare professional services in order to fulfil certain needs that could not be fulfil by healthcare professionals. As the relationship between a patient and their healthcare professionals are viewed as a clinical consultation where expert opinions are recommended based on the consultant’s medical knowledge, some concerns were raised whereby patients find it difficult for their consultants to express empathy and their inability to meet the families’ emotional and informational needs. Another driven factor was that patients and their families view social media as a tool that could potentially bridge the gap between conventional healthcare information regarding their diagnosed condition and everyday life.
Social support is defined as “the process of interaction in a relationship which is intended to improve coping, self-esteem, sense of one’s belonging and competence through an actual or perceived exchange of psychosocial resources”. Undoubtedly, social media is a platform that is able to provide these four (4) crucial categories of social support to patients and their family members.
- Network support – A communication of network that affirms the patients’ sense of belonging. A constant reminder that the community within this network provides support no matter the medical situation that they are facing. Some solid examples of network support includes meeting individuals/patients who had experienced the same condition, able to reach out and contact with others when they are facing a similar situation, and fostering relationship based on shared attribution.
- Information support – This is a very important aspect when someone is newly diagnosed and are in need of a lot of information about their condition and treatment options which could be obtained by other patients who has already gone through similar events.
- Emotional support – This is defined as a communication that fulfils a patient’s emotional or affective needs. This support is gain through the overwhelming support and emotional care and concern which could result in improved patient’s mood. Patients are bale to share their emotional difficulty with those who truly understand the difficulty that they are going through, the express of empathy by the networking community could boost emotional well-being of patients and their family members.
- Esteem support – This support is defined as a type of communication that could boost a patient’s self-esteem and beliefs that they are able to cope with their conditions and perform certain difficult task. This is essential as esteem support could influence a patient into taking appropriate action necessary for their health. With esteem support, the patients is able to accept and live with their condition in a positive approach.
Social media has played a prominent role in health and social support as well as patient empowerment. Many research also noted that patient empowerment has been established as a concept that is able to foster strong patient autonomy and increase interaction with healthcare professionals in terms of healthcare decision making. While many earlier studies concluded that internet and social media possess negative effect on one’s social life and well-being, the importance of social media in providing social support and personal networks within the healthcare community has grown tremendously. I believe that social media will continue to increase social capital, social support and provide a sense of community for patients and their family members for years to come.