How Much Health Information Should You Share on Social Media?
When to spread the word and when to keep things private
Every day you hear on social media about someone you know who broke a bone, had an operation or sailed through an annual physical. Since many of us share our lives update by update to keep in touch with family and friends, it’s no wonder we also spread the news of our health — and our health woes.
We Love to Share
A 2014 survey by marketing firm Liquid Grids found that 30 percent of respondents shared a personal health experience on Facebook or another social site in the previous three months. CaringBridge, where families can post health updates for a loved one, has hosted more than 500,000 websites, and one in nine Americans have used it to rally support for a relative or friend, according to the organization.
Among boomers, Facebook is the most popular place to share personal health information on social media, with Pinterest and Twitter coming in second and third, respectively, according to a 2015 Fleishman Hillard Social Health Survey.
Individuals also reach out to their social networks to find care, says Bill Balderaz, president of Fathom Healthcare. “Forty percent of consumers look to social media when choosing a health care provider, and that’s across all age demographics, from 18-year-olds to seniors.”
Tips for Sharing Health Information on Social Media
Yet while it may seem natural to share health information this way, there are a few precautions to take before hitting “send” on your health updates. Here’s your guide to sharing health information on social media:
- Close friends, siblings and children should find out your serious health news directly from you — not via social media. For other updates, choose one medium only. Facebook may be the most likely choice, since it typically includes friends, family and acquaintances.
- What is your goal in sharing? Determine if you’re looking for support, others with the same health problem or commiseration about your health status. Once you’re clear on your motives for sharing, it’s easier to figure out what you should put out there.
- How much should you share? Keep health updates brief and don’t overdo the gory details. “If you’re sharing good news, you get a lot of shares, likes and comments,” says Dave Taylor, executive director of research at Inspire, an online platform where communities of patients discuss health. But if you always put out a negative emotional chain of thought or you have bad news, that can either garner sympathy or be ignored over time if your posts are always downers.
- Will your posts provide comfort or stir up worry? Pay attention to what effect your health updates could have. Your intent is not to frighten friends and family but to inform and share information with them.
- Don't disappear. There’s nothing worse than following someone’s social media posts through an illness only to have them go dark. Once you start posting, you'll need to check in with updates periodically.
- You’re opening yourself up to questionable advice. As with most information online, take any advice you receive about your health with a grain of salt. Always question the source. “It’s great to want to connect with people who have the same condition, people who have arthritis or diabetes and talk about lifestyle and dealing with a chronic illness, but when you are making medical decisions, trust in your hospital’s website, trust in your doctor’s blog, trust in people who have credentials,” says Balderaz.
- You may be putting yourself at risk. Social media sites aren't bound by HIPAA health privacy rules, so you may be opening yourself up to insurance fraud or medical ID theft (when someone steals your medical ID in order to receive your benefits). Check your social media privacy settings so only trusted people see your posts.
- Don’t let social media comments sway you. Never make important decisions based on something you read online. "Get the diagnosis from your doctor, then go online and read more information to help you further," says Balderaz. Make sure you follow your doctor's advice, not that of well-meaning commenters.