I recently read an interesting article published by Lisa Rapaport about the possibility of allowing doctors to access our social media accounts to gain an understanding of our medical history. According to the study Rapaport cites, this leap would give doctors more insight into the lifestyle choices that lead to disease or mental illness for their patients. The publication states: “We believe the increasing availability of patients’ accounts of their care on blogs, social networks, Twitter and hospital review sites presents an intriguing opportunity to advance the patient-centered care agenda and provide novel quality of care data.”
But how plausible is this? While we are extremely cautious when sharing personal information on social media platforms, it turns out we’re much more comfortable sharing these details with our doctors. During the study, 71% of 5000 patients answered “yes” to allowing their doctor to view their social media profiles. The idea is to give doctors and researchers a better understanding of what lifestyle factors contribute to disease. Now, I’m not saying that my Facebook account would predict much; a few pictures with a drink in my hand might put my name on the list for liver and heart disease. But other than the 99% of space taken up by adorable cat pictures and quotes, there really isn’t much substance (at least, pertaining to lifestyle choices/overall health). But it is an interesting idea: social media is, in essence, the story of our lives contained within our own recounting of events via posts, photos, and our interests.
Dr. Elissa Weitzman, a researcher at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, is more optimistic. She wrote in an email to Reuters that, “In a perfect, creative and well worked through digitally enabled world, real-time mining of social media content could be revealing allergies, medications or health problems that are otherwise unknown which could alter treatment decisions in an emergency situation and be life-saving.”
So, is this a plausible idea? Would my doctor comb through my tweets and posts instead of asking standard questions as a fast track to an assessment? I don’t know, but I’ll be sure to ask him next time.