Social media contribute a lot to the development of the healthcare system by providing platforms for healthcare interventions, sharing data helping to detect health issues, and announcing the recruitment for trials. However, some critical issues concerning ethics exist in the usage of social media by healthcare providers. Such issues include privacy, anonymity, informed consent, data management, and others. Different measures, ethical standards, and the Declaration of Helsinki should be used to ensure patients’ security and confidentiality. Moreover, another type of ethical issue, which is immoral prioritizing, should be addressed wisely by the right decisions, targeting the improving health level among the population.
Social Media in Healthcare
The usage of social media in healthcare may be beneficial for patients in various ways. For instance, according to the research made by Lin and Kishore (2021), social media usage provides social support, while user interaction makes it easier to receive emotional support, which is directly linked to psychological health. By interacting with users through the Internet, organizations answer their questions and provide social support. Therefore, social media are essential in improving people’s emotional conditions and, thus, their mental health. Moreover, scholars argue that social media is dramatically changing healthcare delivery and its benefits overcome its drawbacks (Al-Nahdi et al., 2020). Finally, it is claimed that healthcare workers have also started to use social media daily, share knowledge, network, and develop as professionals (Al-Nahdi et al., 2020). Although the Internet provides a variety of new opportunities, healthcare providers should be aware of possible issues that may harm the mental health of their patients.
There were made many kinds of research on how the healthcare system may benefit from social media usage and how websites can be used to improve the services that organizations provide to the needy. For instance, Mgudlwa and Iyamu (2018) concluded that “there is a relationship between big data and the network in every operation of social media and healthcare that reproduces big data” (p. 7). In other words, patients’ data and personal information are collected by healthcare websites and organizations’ social networks. On the one hand, such data collection may be helpful in its analysis, which will lead to the improvement of services and the quality of provided help. On the other hand, there is a risk that personal information is collected without the clients’ informed consent, which ignores such ethical issues as confidentiality, and anonymity, and may harm the psychological health of these patients.
Ethical Issues in Social Networks
To begin with, there are some problems concerning ethics in the healthcare system. According to Hunter et al. (2018), key ethical issues in social media usage by healthcare providers include “privacy; anonymity and confidentiality; authenticity; the rapidly changing SM environment; informed consent; recruitment, voluntary participation, and sampling; minimizing harm; and data security and management” (p. 343). Thus, being a healthcare provider, one should be aware of how security and anonymity issues may affect the psychological health of the patient. Therefore, public health units should ensure the highest possible ethical standards to protect the privacy of SM users (Hunter et al., 2018). Improving one aspect of a person’s health, an organization should not make others worse.
Moreover, regarding the ethical issue of informed consent, healthcare organizations, especially public health researchers, who analyze personal data to improve suggested drugs and services, should be certain patients consent to their activity. For instance, there is a Declaration of Helsinki that concerns “the right to make informed decisions, raises issues about research practice that cannot simply be trumped by the public interest argument” (Hunter et al., 2018, p. 345-346). Thus, all organizations, social media, and websites should ensure patients’ information is conducted under the Declaration of Helsinki.
Another possible ethical problem that can be found in the social networks of healthcare providers can be immoral prioritizing. For instance, because of the COVID-19 pandemics, baby boomers started to spend more time in front of the TV than they used to spend (Williams & Leppla, 2021). This trend is suggested to be addressed by audiologists, which can promote their services via the TV, making watching the television easier for people aged from 57 to 75 (Williams & Leppla, 2021). However, instead of encouraging baby boomers to spend more time in from of the TV, which may harm their health because of the lack of physical activity, some apps targeting the increase in daily activities should be promoted. This is another possible ethical issue concerning the immoral prioritizing of healthcare providers.
Social networks can be used by healthcare providers for their reasons: building networks, professional development, and communication, which benefit these employees a lot. However, when social networks are used to collect and analyze patients’ personal information, some ethical issues may occur. On the one hand, data collection may lead to improving services and the quality of provided help. On the other hand, there is a risk that personal information is collected without the clients’ informed consent and ignores confidentiality and anonymity, harming the mental health of patients.
Al-Nahdi, S., Alanzi, T., & Alhodaib, H. (2020). Use of social media by healthcare providers in Saudi Arabia: reasons and usefulness for their professional development. In 2020 19th International Symposium on Distributed Computing and Applications for Business Engineering and Science, pp. 332-335.
Hunter, R. F., Gough, A., O’Kane, N., McKeown, G., Fitzpatrick, A., Walker, T., McKinley, M., Lee, M. & Kee, F. (2018). Ethical issues in social media research for public health. American Journal of Public Health, 108(3), 343-348.
Lin, X., & Kishore, R. (2021). Social media-enabled healthcare: a conceptual model of social media affordances, online social support, and health behaviors and outcomes. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 166.
Mgudlwa, S., & Iyamu, T. (2018). Integration of social media with healthcare big data for improved service delivery. South African Journal of Information Management, 20(1), 1-8.
Williams, N. M., & Leppla, M. (2021). 4 Key Post-pandemic Trends for Marketing Hearing Care to
Baby Boomers. The Hearing Journal, 74(8), 50-51.