Sharing is Caring? How Social Media Impacts the Healthcare Experience


Published: 15 September 2018

With one-quarter of the world's population using Facebook every month (Popper 2017), there's not much in our lives that goes 'unshared'.

So, is it any wonder that social media has impacted the medical world, too?

You can find just about every hospital, pharmaceutical company and healthcare worker connecting with the world in some way through the internet.

Of course, there are upsides to the dissemination of so much health information to the general public. For one thing, we now have patients who know more about their conditions and are in a better position to advocate for themselves than ever before.

However, there are downsides, too.

When hospitals and the healthcare industry try to take their message directly to the public, some backlash is bound to happen.

Let’s look at three ways social media can be dangerous to healthcare.

Read more: Nursing, Privacy and the Risks of Social Media

Healthcare Commercialisation

Pharmaceutical companies and hospitals need to advertise.

In the age of savvy patients and choice, it only makes sense that the PR departments of these companies fan out into the online marketing space. However, as a healthcare worker, these efforts should be viewed with a critical eye.

Is it in the best interest of the patient for hospitals and pharmaceutical companies to compete for a patient’s business through social media?

If one company dedicates more budget to push its product by Facebook than their competitors, a patient may begin to think that it is the only solution to their problem.

That decision should be left to the healthcare professional, not the patient.

patient using phone in hospital

Additionally, when hospitals compete for attention on social media, it begs the question of whether they are a superior hospital or just have a slick public relations machine.

More and more patients expect an ‘experience’ when going to a hospital – something between what you would get at a restaurant and a hotel. When these large medical companies advertise directly to the patient, a concerned healthcare provider has to wonder if the patients are the ones who should be making the choice.

Doctors, nurses and other providers should also have a say, and this aggressive advertising takes them out of the mix.

Dangerous Advice

Many people the world over have inadequate healthcare or none at all. The cost of healthcare is skyrocketing by the day, and many people can not afford to pay for big tests and procedures out of their own pocket.

Sometimes, even with health insurance, patients can’t afford the gap that comes with getting ill. This is one reason why people are turning to the internet to self-diagnose, which can be an alarming and dangerous trend.

Read more: Doctor Google has Arrived: What does this Mean for the Nursing Profession?

Nurses need to be careful when using social media as a professional tool because it’s only a matter of time before someone asks for free medical advice.

Legally, you probably don’t have much protection when giving out information to someone you don’t know. Ethically, you could wind up misdiagnosing someone at such a distance and cause harm.

Either way, you have little protection. When people are looking for a freebie or searching for information because they can’t get to their GP, it can lead to a dangerous conflict of interest that can hurt the patient medically, and the nurse legally.

Work Conflicts

If you have had a bad day and post about your boss online, a work friend can easily take that information to your supervisor.

You could face disciplinary action or get fired for what you innocently share on social media. From complaints about patients to bullying coworkers, things can get messy in a hurry.

You can protect yourself by not friending people from work, but for many people, this takes most of the fun out of social media. You are online to interact with your friends, and most of us have friends at work. The problem starts when your posts are shared or seen by people who may have something against you. You don’t know who might see your profile page.

For nurses who look to protect themselves from this occurrence, you can do two things: never share anything work-related or don’t use social media at all with people from work.

Learn more about customising who you share posts with in the Article: A Nurses’ Guide to Securing Your Online Facebook Privacy.

Additional Resources



educator profile image
Lynda Lampert View profile
Lynda is a registered nurse with three years experience on a busy surgical floor in a city hospital. She graduated with an Associates degree in Nursing from Mercyhurst College Northeast in 2007 and lives in Erie, Pennsylvania in the United States. In her work, she took care of patients post operatively from open heart surgery, immediately post-operatively from gastric bypass, gastric banding surgery and post abdominal surgery. She also dealt with patient populations that experienced active chest pain, congestive heart failure, end stage renal disease, uncontrolled diabetes and a variety of other chronic, mental and surgical conditions.