Less medical privacy may be good for your health.
A growing body of research has found that information Americans share on social- media websites about their health and lifestyle is more up to date and accurate than what they share with doctors, employers, insurance companies and government agencies.
In other words, we're more honest with our friends than we are with those who control our access to medical care.
While that may simply reflect human nature, it has huge implications for health care, as patients and providers look to the analysis of so-called big data to improve diagnosis and treatment.
The findings suggest that improvement in medical services may depend as much on widespread availability of accurate patient data as it does on advances in technologies and procedures.
"The little secret of big data is that a lot of it isn't clean," says
With the federal government now requiring all patient data to be digital, there's a big opportunity for companies that can integrate health data from a variety of sources and ensure its accuracy, says Ho.
The most accurate source may be what patients themselves share on their social-media accounts, research shows.
One recent study analyzed
By combining the
"The power of 'Likes' is that they represent behavior," wrote
The findings echo those of other studies that have hinted at the power of social media to improve medical diagnosis and treatment. One showed that two-thirds of smokers keep their habit a secret from doctors and insurers -- which is why smoking-cessation plans shared with
While the analysis of such personal data may make privacy advocates cringe, some predict that making it publicly available in electronic form can revolutionize health care.
"We need indiscriminate, continuous, multisourced data streams to realize the great potential of digital health," Saxon says.
More consumers seem to agree. Millions are tracking health and lifestyle activity using smartphones or wearable wireless devices -- then sharing that data on
Keeping tabs socially
Employers and health insurers, meanwhile, are already using social media to boost worker participation in programs that promote exercise and healthier diets. The
"Health managers can use incentives and rewards to encourage consumer behavior," says
Analyzing health and lifestyle data from many sources -- including social-media accounts -- can help create highly customized personal health management services for consumers, says
But only if the information is clean -- and shared.
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