Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Marla Ahlgrimm: The Value of Virtual Medicine

Social media and other technology has made it easier than ever to take advantage of virtual healthcare, says Marla Ahlgrimm. Women, especially, turned to the Internet with questions about everything from weight gain and acne to hormone disorders and animal bites. Has this unbridled access to information done more harm than good? Research indicates that the three key ways women utilize the World Wide Web for health related topics are finding information, accessing support, and communicating with healthcare providers. Here, Ahlgrimm outlines the pros and cons of each.

Finding medical information

Sites like Facebook are extremely valuable when it comes to connecting and keeping up with healthcare providers. Many physicians and medical practices regularly update their social media accounts with relevant information, notes Marla Ahlgrimm. However, a 2014 study found that the majority of online searchers depended upon information-oriented sites such as Wikipedia for their medical fact-finding. Unfortunately, these websites are not written nor reviewed by medical professionals and often contain advice or misinformation which could be damaging to a woman’s health.

A community of support

Marla Ahlgrimm believes that finding a supportive community is perhaps one of the best uses of social media where healthcare is concerned. There are multiple online groups dedicated to virtually all medical conditions, making it easier than ever to connect with people who understand a woman’s unique situation. The biggest drawback, notes Marla Ahlgrimm, has to do with privacy. Participants often cannot block other group members from reading their posts or from viewing their personal profiles, which makes it difficult to regulate who has access to one’s personal health information.

Communication with healthcare providers

Social media has slowly been accepted by medical providers as a way to directly interact with patients. Marla Ahlgrimm says many doctors acknowledge the public’s increasing reliance on the Internet to schedule office visits and refill prescriptions. Web-based services, however, tend to restrict a more personal connection between doctor and patient.