People Clam Up About Sickness on Social Media

On social online sites, people post about eating, working, parenting, cooking, playing, hunting, quilting—you name it.

Just about everything is up for public consumption—except our health, according to a study from Brigham Young University that finds that while most of us go online regularly for help in diagnosing health issues, few of us actually post information, questions or experiences on health topics.

Fewer than 15% of us post the health information that most of us consume, according to Rosemary Thackeray, BYU professor of health science and lead author of the study, currently appearing online in the Journal of Medical Internet Research. According to the study, more than 60% of Internet users go online for health help, looking for advice, digging up user experiences on social media and consulting online reviews in hunt of health providers and health care facilities.

Thackeray believes if people were more “social” about health information on social media, the better the information would become. “If you only have a few people sharing their experience with using a painkiller, that’s different than 10,000 people doing that,” Thackeray said.

According to data Thackeray and BYU colleagues Ben Crookston and Josh West used from the Pew Internet and American Life Project, three-fourths of people begin hunting for medical or health information online by using a search engine such as Google or Yahoo. By the end of their search, nearly a third have turned to social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter for health-related activities, while 41% consult online rankings or reviews of doctors and health care facilities.

Only 10% of respondents actually posted reviews; 15% posted comments, questions or information when it came to health-related info.

The researchers say social media could be more valuable to all parties if more people joined in on the health discussion. Patients could become more empowered, and doctors could be more aware of the public discourse around certain medical issues. The challenge now is how to get more people to contribute health info on social media sites.