4 Common Myths About Online and Social Media Health Content Debunked

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Since late September 2012 (and during previous stand-alone digihealth pulse studies conducted with online moms and health providers) we’ve been collecting reams of data on how people actually find and consume online and social media health content.  After more than a year of work, we’re now ready to debunk four common myths about Web and social media health, wellness and medical information.

Myth 1: If Health Content is on Facebook or Twitter It’s Just Not Credible:  Those who have visited the front page of this site have likely noticed three numbers that have been displayed since digihealth pulse’s launch.  These are Credibility Scores, an index we developed that ranges from one (low credibility) to five (high credibility).  This index is derived from data study participants have provided on the credibility of thousands of individual pieces of health content they have consumed since digihealth pulse’s launch.

If Facebook and Twitter Are So Unreliable, Why Are These Credibility Scores So High?

What’s interesting is that throughout the study average Facebook/Twitter Credibility Scores have hovered between 3.1 and 3.5. If people believed the health content they were encountering on these sites was completely unreliable, we would expect to see average scores between 2 and 2.8.  In addition, earlier this year, we found that physicians rated the credibility of health and medical content they encountered on Facebook and Twitter with similar Credibility Scores.  It’s clear that we can’t assume people believe health content is completely unreliable just because it appears on Facebook and Twitter.

Myth 2: Sentiment is An Accurate Measure of Content Impact:  With digihealth pulse we’re also looking at whether sentiment can tell us anything about the impact of content on health behavior.  This is an important question as sentiment has become an important proxy for content impact — i.e., it is assumed that positive content has a favorable effect, negative content has a unfavorable effect. We’ve learned one important thing about sentiment after more than a year of study: Sentiment tells us very little about whether people will take action.  Just because a particular piece of content is perceived as negative or positive does not mean that it will definitely shift health behavior one way or the other.

Myth 3:  In Health, People Like Me Have More Influence than Traditional Information Sources: With the rise of social and peer-developed content, it’s become popular to assume that e-patients or other laypeople developing content online have more influence than traditional information or authority figures.  We’ve found this is simply untrue.  Not only are old-school online players like the mainstream media major outlets more likely to publish health content that captures attention, but they also have a greater influence on perceptions and intent.

Myth 4: Social and Search Are the Primary Ways People Encounter Health Content:  As we have discussed previously, although a good amount of health content is consumed via proacting (search) and socializing (social media), these are not the primary ways people encounter much health/medical information.  Rather, a great deal of content is being consumed serendipitously on a range of Web properties, including news sites and health sites such as WebMD.

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Fard Johnmar

About the Author

Fard Johnmar is founder and president of Enspektos, LLC, which powers digihealth pulse. Enspektos is an innovation consultancy focused on helping health organizations use digital technologies to spark action among consumers, healthcare providers, caregivers and others. He is also a 2013-2014 Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research, a global think tank focused on the advanced study of the latest developments in new and emerging communications tools and technologies.  He also is co-author of ePatient 2015: 15 Surprising Trends Changing Health Care.

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