Healthcare Influencers And the Dangers of Social Media

Thee COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light a previously overlooked trend: social media scarcity of medical specialists. Citizens have scoured the web for answers since the viruses infected Western countries. However, when disinformation became more prevalent, most of them decided to place their trust in the few medical specialists who had an online presence, resulting in the emergence of a new figure: the healthcare influencer.

The popularity of influencer marketing increased in recent years. Since so many marketers are working with influencers or are considering doing so, it’s interesting to examine some of the downsides of brand-influencer collaborations. The healthcare industry was no exception, and influencers soon offered suggestions on staying active and living longer.

Users increased their attempts to find healthcare information after the release of COVID-19, relying on internet recommendations. However, many of these turned out to be fake news. Users were not looking for reliable medical information, even though traditional sources of information already provided it.

There was a void in social media that needed to be addressed by doctors who were also adept users of the platform. As a result, when a few medical professionals went online to discuss the pandemic’s consequences, they became overnight celebrities. Medical professionals attempted to combat disinformation when people were unsure who to believe. Governments were sluggish to respond, fear was spreading like wildfire, and healthcare systems were collapsing, but hearing a doctor explain how to deal with COVID-19 put our worries to rest.

Some of the drawbacks involved are:

  • Issue with licensing
  • Professional image damage
  • Poor Quality of information
  • Violation of Patient-HCP borders

How do you manage the drawbacks?

  • Issue with licensing

Several professional infractions by HCPs on social media have been reported to licensing authorities in the United States, resulting in disciplinary action. For example, after posting comments on Facebook about a patient, the Rhode Island State Board reprimanded and punished an emergency care physician for “unprofessional conduct.” The physician did not disclose the patient’s name in the post, but there was enough information for others in the community to recognize the patient. One of the most common internet violations reported to state medical boards is a misrepresentation of qualifications.

Physicians should be well versed with state medical board guidelines for online communications to ensure that they do not violate any rules that could threaten their license. Nursing boards have also sanctioned nurses for online exposure of patients’ confidential health information, issuing letters of concern to license suspensions. It is also highly usual for HCP students to publish unprofessional content on social media. According to one poll, 60% of medical school deans reported incidents of students posting inappropriate online materials, such as patient information, lousy language, portrayals of intoxication, and sexually explicit material.

  • Professional image damage

Publishing unprofessional content that might reflect negatively on HCPs, students, and related institutions is a danger associated with social media usage. A person’s social media profile can leave a lasting impression, providing clues about their personality, values, and priorities. Social media users are likely to have multiple friends, family, and co-workers networks. Some users create secondary accounts to keep their personal and professional photographs distinct. Since private and professional contacts frequently overlap, this may not be easy to apply in practice.

On the other hand, most social networking sites now provide privacy settings that allow users to tailor their profile material and who may see it. It would be ideal for a user’s account and privacy controls to be set up, so one’s network grows while limiting the amount of information exposed to those outside the network.

  • Violation of Patient-HCP borders

Even if patients initiate online communication, HCPs who connect with their patients on social media may be breaking the patient-HCP boundary. HCPs should familiarize themselves with the privacy settings and terms of the social media sites they subscribe to so they can keep their accounts as private as possible. Rather than “friending” or conversing with a patient on social media, HCPs can recommend that the patient create a website dedicated to medical events so that the HCP can keep track of the developments more professionally.

An HCP could come across posts or photographs on social media sites that show patients engaging in risky or health-averse behaviors. Digitally tracking patients’ habits, such as quitting smoking or following a healthy diet, could jeopardize the trust necessary for a solid patient-physician connection. As a result, an HCP should assess the source of this knowledge and use clinical judgment to decide if and how to disclose this discovery during patient management.

  • Poor Quality of information

You can address this problem in several ways. It is possible to direct patients to reputable peer-reviewed websites with information that has been subjected to quality control by HCPs. The World Health Organization is spearheading a request to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to create a new domain suffix dedicated entirely to validated health data. There would be strict restrictions on the distribution of this domain suffix, and it would scrutinize websites using this suffix to ensure that they met stringent quality standards. Search engines prefer specific domain addresses when presenting results in response to health-related queries.

Influencer marketing may be a handy tool for marketers, but it’s crucial to know where it can go wrong. COVID-19’s impact on the Internet will last long after the infection has faded in this era of fast development. Users will continue to trust healthcare influencers, perhaps even more than they do today. Citizens may still distrust authority figures, but they have a lot of faith in their peers, especially those they believe know more than they do.


Navya Koshi

Navya Mariam Koshi is a diligent, self-motivated Pharm D graduate using this platform to leverage her skills in this field to provide excellent and exceptional health care services to the public.

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