For patients and members of the public, social media can be a useful tool to access quality health information, but there are some things that you should keep in mind when trying to educate yourself about an injury or condition.
The first part of this article will highlight some common tips for navigating social media to find the information you seek, whether it’s posted by a physiotherapist or someone else.
The second part of this article looks at the other aspect of social media use; when patients post content containing themselves or their own health information or patients are part of content posted by a physiotherapist. There is significant risk in posting videos, images, or individual health information online, so it is best to be aware of what those risks might be before posting content or providing consent to your physiotherapist to post content that features you in some way.
Accessing Social Media for Health Information
A couple taps, swipes and scrolls and you have access to a massive amount of content ready for you to read or watch. The information is designed for you to access it easily, is often free to use and not hidden behind a paywall (initially anyways) and if it’s not something you’re interested in you just flick your thumb along the screen and move onto the next potential piece of information.
There are many positives to being able to access information online - the ease in which you access information on phones, tablets or computers means that there are very few barriers to information.
With all these positives, what are the potential negatives?
- Misinformation, pseudo-science, or other forms of quackery. Unfortunately for those seeking good quality information there are many social media feeds that are designed to push false information.1 The pandemic saw a flood of misinformation hit social media, with some of it being shared or created by health-care practitioners.2 Regulated health professionals do come under scrutiny by their regulatory colleges when they have posted something that would go against the accepted Standards of Practice or Code of Ethical Conduct but there is a significant amount of health content that is promoted by unregulated health providers or websites not linked to a regulated member. It is challenging to navigate websites and social media with all of that misinformation being produced. For tips on spotting fake health news, this article can help you sort through the mess.
- If the intent of the post you are reading is to sell you something you might want to be a bit leery.3 Advertising in general can get the better of us (which is why I have several mostly unused kitchen gadgets filling my kitchen cabinets). When it comes to health information, it’s good to do some work to understand if what you are being sold is going to be useful or if it’s necessary. For example, the global supplement industry was valued at 152 billion dollars in 20214 and most of the research around dietary supplements is pretty poor if almost non-existent outside of the recognized mainstays such as ginger for nausea or folic acid for pregnant moms.5 There is also quite a bit of unease around what is put into supplements.6 Social media posts regarding health-care information can be viewed similarly to what we know about the supplement industry; you can’t initially trust what they are telling you to be true and you don’t know what actually shows up at your door is effective or even safe. You must put in some effort to check whether what they are telling you is true and would be helpful for you.
- Even if the information you found is supported by good research, you should ask yourself if it is right for YOU. If it’s an exercise program or an exercise product, are you safe to use it? Do you understand the potential risks? Researching a shoulder program to get better after you hurt it could give you a wide range of options but determining the one that is right for you can be challenging without the guidance of a health professional. If you are uncertain as to what to do you can always ask a physiotherapist or other primary health-care provider, or access the Rehab Advice Line, which is a free tool for Albertans to get advice regarding an injury or condition.
Giving Consent to Social Media Posts
Let’s now switch things up and put you in the video or picture as the patient doing the shoulder exercises. It is important to know that not all videos or pictures your physiotherapist takes are for social media or advertising. An image or video could be just for the physiotherapist’s use to discuss cues or to correct your form or for the purpose of delivering services via virtual sessions. There should be an upfront discussion on what the purpose of the video or image is for. If it is intended to be posted online there are some definitive risks, so why do it in the first place?
It’s important to define the reasoning behind your decision to be featured online so that you can properly weigh the reward versus the risk. This could be something you as a patient really wanted to do and took the initiative. It could be because you’ve worked hard at your recovery and you are excited to show off your progress to other patients, or you’re proud that you can do a certain lift or exercise you didn’t think you could do. It could be because you are a high-level athlete and need to promote yourself to sponsors or funders and you need to build your brand, or you really appreciate the work your physiotherapist has done to get you back to your sport or activity and you want to help them out. At no time should your physiotherapist coerce you into consenting to have anything posted online.
If the physiotherapist is using an image or video for advertising, then it is likely the video is going to be more beneficial to the physiotherapist who is recording it than it is to you. Marketing content promoted on social media channels is for the physiotherapist to gain more clients or increase their brand recognition.
Whether it is you yourself posting the content or the physiotherapist posting the content, there are risks to you both.
- Your image or video will live forever. There are rarely instances in which you can completely remove content once it has been posted online. There have been numerous people who have had comments or posts come back to haunt them years later even if the posts were deleted. That is the thing with technology, it might be deleted from the site, but you never know who has a screen shot of something or managed to download the content prior to deletion. Once you have given consent for a physiotherapist to post an image or video, it is next to impossible to remove it completely from the digital landscape and ensure that once it is taken down it won’t come back.
- Once it is out in digital format it can be doctored or altered in a way that you may not be happy with. The technology exists to transform any content online into something else entirely and for the doctored video or image to go viral. If this occurs after you gave consent to post your image online, there is not much you or your physiotherapist can do about it.
- Accidental disclosure of health information. Your health information should remain private and confidential. Any information that makes it online could be used by others. It could be something in the video segment or potentially the physiotherapist errs in disclosing your name or some other distinguishing feature. Privacy is important and it is worth taking steps to ensure you health information stays private.
- Consent goes both ways. If you are recording your physiotherapy session and wish to post it online to your social media account, you would need your physiotherapist’s consent to do so. They might have reasons for not wanting sessions posted online, whether for their own privacy or if they feel they don’t wish to have the work they do with patients out in the public domain.
It is important to question what you access online. There are many websites such as www.snopes.com that actively fact check viral memes or information that spreads online. You can always use more trusted websites for health information such as MyHealth.Alberta.ca to check if the information you are reading is correct. You can also bring the information to your health-care provider for them to discuss it with you.
It is also important to weigh your perceived benefits and risks if you or your physiotherapist are posting pictures or videos of physiotherapy sessions. At no time should you be offered gifts, discounts or preferential treatment to coerce you into providing consent to post content online featuring you. It is best to pause and think about what you are agreeing to prior to providing consent.
- Wangm Y., McKee, M., Torbica, A., Stuckler, D. Systematic Literature Review on the Spread of Health-related Misinformation on Social Media. Social Science & Medicine 240, 112552 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2019.112552
- Pilgrim, K., Bohnet-Joschko, S. Selling health and happiness how influencers communicate on Instagram about dieting and exercise: mixed methods research. BMC Public Health 19, 1054 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-019-7387-8