If you were to search ‘Is social media bad for your health?’ into Google, you’ll be bombarded with various blogs and newspaper articles about the negative impacts it can have on your psyche and physique. But with every bad perception comes a good one – and a growing trend is starting to show how this 21st century tool might be the next ‘apple a day’.
Take Instagram, for example. Originally created as a ‘fun and quirky way to share your life with friends’, the photography app is now being used as the inspiration for Figure 1, an ‘Instagram for Doctors’. Then there’s Twitter which, despite its intended function being to ‘connect with your friends — and other fascinating people’, is now being analysed and used as a radar for the Samaritans to detect users with suicidal tendencies. And, to take a slightly controversial angle, the Facebook social experiment which invaded users’ news feeds to convey certain emotions certainly takes its mission statement of making ‘the world more open’ into more literal terms.
There’s one aspect that these stories share –social media is being used unconventionally to both improve and monitor health. Considering the challenges currently faced by the NHS, it wouldn’t be disputed that the healthcare market is in need of a mutual ally. After all, it’s already expanding. Look at how various companies and gadgetries are combining to combat the prevalent Ebola crisis, or even Google’s creation of a pill and sensor to detect early signs of cancer and other diseases.
Can social media alone ‘fight the good fight’? It’s unlikely. Instead, it should exist as part of a library of growing technologies helping to ease the strain on healthcare services. If it can remove some of the stigmatisms surrounding it, particularly in regards to privacy issues, then it might just stand a chance at being recognised as a respected method of research in the healthcare market.