Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of adult Internet users in the United States are Tweeting, posting status updates to Facebook, and communicating in all sorts of ways through social networking sites. With 60 percent of all Internet users also looking up health information, there should be an overabundance of diabetes Tweets, cancer comments and other health condition discussions. But that does not appear to be the reality, a Brigham Young University study finds.
The study, which used data from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, found that less than 15 percent of all people are contributing information about their health on the Internet.
“One explanation might be related to the fact that the frequency of encounters with doctors, hospitals, or medical treatments is less often [than other experiences discussed online], so there may be less motivation to share experiences,” the study authors wrote. “It could also be due to users' feelings of incompetence relating to health topics, preferring to leave such discussions to trained professionals.”
Despite the low number of commenters, 30 to 40 percent of people surveyed reported turning to social networking specifically for, "health-related activities and use of online rankings or review of doctors, hospitals, and medical treatments.”
These trends are consistent throughout the Internet. The study used Amazon and TripAdvisor as examples of popular websites that feature online communities in which the "lurkers" -- members who read but don't participate in discussion -- greatly outnumber the contributors.
Researchers did find certain demographics in which commenting was more common. Women and younger people -- those under 50, especially ages 18-29 -- were more likely to discuss health over social networks. The study also found that these groups are, unsurprisingly, more likely to be active on social media in general.
Participants with higher incomes (who are more likely to have Internet access) and chronic disease (who have a need for health information) were far more likely to consult online rankings and reviews.
“Overall, there is a need for more research to understand the motivations and perceived benefits of contributing to health-related online forums, discussion boards, rating sites, and other social media venues,” the study authors concluded.
Future studies should consider areas of the Internet where people freely share and discuss their health history. The New York Times has a photo wall dedicated to cancer survivors, the American Diabetes Association has a strong Facebook presence, and Kevin Pho, also known as KevinMD, is constantly engaging with readers over various social platforms, earning him the reputation as “social media's leading physician voice.”
"Anti-Social Media: Health Enthusiasts Use The Internet, But Don't Comment" originally appeared on Everyday Health.