1 in 10 Americans turn to social media for health information, new survey finds

Amid cultural wars over masking, Covid-19 treatments, and vaccination warrants, many Americans are unsure of who to trust when it comes to health care information.

With Facebook under fire from new criticism for putting profits before people based on a whistleblower’s testimony to Congress, it’s a wonder anyone trusts social media platforms, especially in a healthcare setting. health.

But according to new data released this week by PatientsLikeMe, an online patient community, 11% of Americans polled said they were turning to social media to look for reliable health information. Almost one in ten (9%) also said they used social media to evaluate new treatment options and 7% sought information about drug side effects on social media.

While these numbers are relatively low, they represent a significantly higher proportion of respondents than the proportion who report trusting social media for health information. This group represented only 2% of respondents.

In other words, many more people are using social media to find health information than they trust social media to provide reliable health information.

Distrust of health information found on social media does not necessarily translate into caution of other sources of online health information.

The first instinct of many people is to turn to Google for information about a health problem and treatment. Almost a quarter of consumers surveyed said they use search engines to evaluate new treatment options, and 29% use search engines to get information about side effects of drugs.

But search engines may not be the best source of information either, according to Libby Baney, executive director of the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies (ASOP Global).

“There is no real truth on the Internet when it comes to search results,” Baney said.

A July survey by ASOP Global showed that 72% of Americans believe the best search results in healthcare-related research should be verified, but Baney says there’s no way to tell if that happens or not. Search engine algorithms are opaque and dynamic, constantly evolving.

“People go on the internet and in some cases blindly trust what they find,” Baney said.

Consumers, she says, have not been trained to discern what information is trustworthy or not based on search engine results. A lot of people just assume that all websites that appear at the top of Google’s results must have been verified.

“Consumers really have a hard time analyzing the legitimacy of science versus science fiction,” Baney said. “We cannot expect patients to educate themselves outside of the algorithm.”

Americans may be using self-service channels to get health information, as many don’t have a specific system to track and manage their health. Although 80% of those surveyed said they would be comfortable or very comfortable using a mobile app to manage their health and well-being, almost half (43%) do not use none of these tools.

One bright spot in the PatientsLikeMe survey results is that doctors are still leading the way for reliable health information, despite a credibility hit as the pandemic spreads. An August poll showed that 41% of Americans polled had lost confidence in their doctors during the pandemic.

The survey shows that 76% of those surveyed would trust their doctors for health information. The largest group of respondents (43%) also said they turned to their doctor to assess new treatment options and 37% said they turned to their doctor for reliable information on side effects. medication.

These results are consistent with other surveys, such as an Associated Press-NORC poll in June which showed that 70% of respondents trust their doctors and 79% trust nurses to do what’s right for them. them and their families all or most of the time.

Yet consumers spend a lot of time alone trying to make sense of their own health. Baney suggests that consumers should think of online healthcare information differently than other types of information.

“It’s getting riskier in health care and we haven’t done any [great] work distinguishing health care from other things, ”Baney said. “Buying a prescription drug for myself is different from buying shows on the Internet. “

About Madeline Powers

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