There has been a fair amount of discussion about how social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter can help increase health literacy, improve communication between health-care providers and patients and provide patients with support systems. But can such online tools effectively promote global health?
For many global health issues (both at home and in developing countries alike) what we need is better communication and better allocation of the resources we already have. We need to promote wellness and prevent illnesses before they require expensive treatments, stop the spread of disease before it becomes epidemic and promote sustainable and affordable solutions over costly and complicated treatments; we need to make patients intelligent moderators of their own health by supporting healthful living through lifestyle education, preventative healthcare and of course, access to basic necessities such as food, water and shelter. Most people intuitively know this, but when you actually go to practice medicine it is not what you see. Rather we often use costly treatments and quick fixes after the fact that are more expensive in the long run.
Social media can help with these problems at many levels. Individuals can benefit from better access to health knowledge and better community coordination for solving civic needs. Healthcare providers can become better practitioners by accessing the latest evidence and conferring with experts around the world, and can do more with what they have using better record keeping and decision support. At the level of healthcare systems- information doesn’t have to trickle in any more. Rather, data on diseases, disasters and resource-needs can be recorded and communicated in real time, alleviating huge inefficiencies that hobble coordinated efforts.
Aronoff-Spencer offers several examples of social media tools with the potential to provide global health solutions. One is Ushahidi, an open-source platform technology that allows volunteers to gather information from text messages, blog posts and other sources and map it in near real time. Rescue teams used the technology following the Haiti and Chile earthquakes and, as a result, saved numerous lives.