Online chatrooms and forums have always been a place where people are more open and speak more freely, often sharing intimate information that they’d have a hard time telling a close friend.  Now drug companies and doctors are using social media, blogs and online forums to gather information on patients that they may be reluctant to share with their doctor. social_media_medicine

People tend to be more open on the internet because it’s just them and a machine, a sense on anonymity allows them to open up about things they may otherwise hide.  Things like side effects of medications, experiences in a particular doctors office or just talking honestly and openly about their illness.

So companies are now trying to mine this cloud of information to increase patient care and improve patient outcomes. From InformaionWeek:

One of the early market leaders is PatientsLikeMe, which offers an online data-sharing platform for patients with “life-changing” illnesses. About 80,000 people participate in 11 disease communities, including ALS, chronic fatigue syndrome, depression and other mood disorders, epilepsy, fibromyalgia, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, organ transplants, and Parkinson’s.

Obviously, online health forums aren’t new, people have been discussing their illnesses, symptoms and medical conditions since the days of dial-up.  What is new is the ability to track and analyze the information in the interest of patient care.

The future may be even more exciting.  It’s possible to imagine a world where we can track the spread of the flu by patients just posting when and what symptoms they have.  Or your doctor’s office using an electronic health record that uploads medications and side effects automatically.  This information can be quickly analyzed and can alert doctors to changes they may otherwise have missed.

We’re still in the infancy of social media with respect to health care, but the possibilities are endless.