[Doctors 2.0 and You] It would highly beneficial for Facebook groups dedicated to health and medical issues, which are generally much appreciated by users, if medical practitioners joined in so as to raise the level of dialogue and boost the collaborative spirit.

How does the doctor-patient relationship 2.0 work on the social networks?

According to a WeAreSocial survey carried out in January, 84% of all French citizens now have access to the Internet. Meanwhile 84% have suffered some sort of illness in their lives to date – whether a brief episode or a chronic condition – and a majority of those sufferers frequently consult the Internet to obtain medical information. Recent research shows that nowadays the social networks have become their favourite channel, with patient groups not only providing a sort of enhanced version of the medical forums which had previously been the main means of exchanging information online, but also offering human comfort and support.

This latest development was confirmed by a report unveiled prior to official publication at the Doctors 2.0 and You conference held in Paris in early June. The lead author is Dr Didier Mennecier, a hospital gastroenterologist and specialist in addiction therapy with the French Army medical service, who is also currently moderator of the Facebook group ‘Vivre avec le Crohn’ (Living with Crohn’s disease) set up by Martine Moreira. Dr Mennecier turned to the 4,000 members of the group to find out what the group means to its members and the role it plays in comparison with medical practitioners. The survey results seem to confirm the therapeutic power of social networks. However there still remains the thorny issue of getting the healthcare professionals to join these network groups.

Where do the professionals stand?

In fact the survey reveals some hesitation on the part of patients to tell their general practitioner that they are part of a Facebook support group. Most of the respondents reckoned that their doctor would not be interested (341 replies out of 965) while others felt that this kind of information is no-one else’s business (291 replies). And when some patients (266 replies) did pluck up the courage to broach the subject with their doctor reactions were decidedly mixed: 51% of those respondents said their general practitioners found this way of doing things ‘useful’, without asking for any more information, while 11% did not think that taking part in this kind of group was a good idea, and 6% even thought it could be dangerous. These reactions weigh heavily against the 32% of healthcare professionals reported as agreeing that using social networks in this way is a very good thing. Nevertheless, social network users are generally a well-informed audience and the majority of respondents (79%) said that the information they found on social networks did no more than complement the information supplied by their doctor, and only 31% of them found it to be 100% reliable.

Most of the Facebook group members see the group as the best way of obtaining information on other sufferers’ experiences, and many of them (478) feel it would be beneficial if medical practitioners were to join the group as this would encourage direct contact with a doctor via Facebook. Some 70% say that this kind of interaction with others who suffer/have suffered from a given condition helps to reassure patients and 98% of them would recommend this type of group to other patients. The survey thus reveals that while most patients still trust their doctors, they find online channels to be a real source of information and reassurance and would like more dialogue on experiences, with doctors taking part in the discussions.

Patients seek frequent support

Dr Mennecier’s research also provided feedback on how frequently patients use the Facebook group. A majority of respondents (514) use it almost daily. Most of these patients also seem to be highly digitally savvy people, hooking up with the Facebook group on their computers, tablets and mobile phones. In addition to being intensive users, many of the Facebook group participants are not content to be mere observers but really want to be involved in the action: close to 46% of users put their own questions to the group and also take the trouble to answer queries from other members, compared with 36% of members who only read others people’s comments. This indicates that social networks have now become real tools for people to express themselves and that users find it quite easy to speak up on these channels. Some 69% of the group members surveyed said that when it comes to exchanging information and ideas Facebook works better than a traditional discussion forum.

Among the specific expectations of the group members, a very large majority of respondents (807) said they wanted first and foremost to learn from the experiences of people who have suffered from the same medical condition as themselves. In fact doctors are rarely in a position to give their patients such valuable information. Most respondents said they were looking for human contact but while 557 explained they needed basic support and help and a third of those surveyed said that the group enabled them to talk to sufferers who understood what they were going through on a daily basis, 610 replied that they were seeking more technical information such as the effects of certain medicines.


*The survey comprised 28 questions on different topics. The questionnaire garnered 965 replies during the two months that it was up online – from 25 February to 13 April this year – 85% of respondents being women, mainly in the 26-35 age bracket.


By Anthéa Delpuech