It takes extending the definition of social media a little further than might seem obvious, but this study shows how mobile technology can be used to enhance health care. The study used text messages to provide educational information about a medical problem and to help improve treatment adherence. The results of the study were positive: better adherence, strong patient satisfaction scores, and a high proportion of patients willing to continue receiving the texts.
Admittedly this is a small study and lacked a control group, it presents interesting ideas for future study. Participants in the study found the text messages to be useful and (presumably) non-intrusive, given how many would be willing to continue receiving messages in the future. One could imagine a medical practice where a nurse or provider could send out such messages or reminders to patients who had difficult-to-control illnesses in order to educate and promote better outcomes.
The relevance to social media is this: as of right now, privacy concerns limit the ability to use social media for patient care. The public nature of much of this communication means that personal health information cannot be shared in this setting. However, posting educational information via Twitter or Facebook (which patients could chose to receive via SMS or text services) would be acceptable considering they are not targeted at any one person. Similarly, medication reminders could be generally distributed through similar means. Meanwhile, direct text or SMS messages sent to an individual could be used to actively target care more directly. In this model, social media allows health care professionals to educate and promote health in a general (but still interactive) way while not impinging on private matters.
Social media has great impact in sharing information with a community and engaging in general conversations. Adding SMS or text messages to social media communication allows health care providers to target individual patients more effectively. If this early report bears out, then the impact of social medial and mobile technology can be substantial.