Effective uses of social media in public health and medicine: a systematic review of systematic reviews

Dean M Giustini, Syed Mustafa Ali, Matthew Fraser, Maged N Kamel Boulos


Introduction: Research examining the effective uses of social media (SM) in public health and medicine, especially in the form of systematic reviews (SRs), has grown considerably in the past decade. To our knowledge, no comprehensive synthesis of this literature has been conducted to date.

Aims and methods: To conduct a systematic review of systematic reviews of the benefits and harms (“effects”) of SM tools and platforms (such as Twitter and Facebook) in public health and medicine. To perform a synthesis of this literature and create a ‘living systematic review’.

Results: Forty-two (42) high-quality SRs were examined. Overall, evidence of SM’s effectiveness in public health and medicine was judged to be minimal. However, qualitative benefits for patients are seen in improved psychosocial support and psychological functioning. Health professionals benefited from better peer-to-peer communication and lifelong learning. Harms on all groups include the impact of SM on mental health, privacy, confidentiality and information reliability.

Conclusions: A range of negatives and positives of SM in public health and medicine are seen in the SR literature but definitive conclusions cannot be made at this time. Clearly better research designs are needed to measure the effectiveness of social technologies. For ongoing updates, see the wiki “Effective uses of social media in health: a living systematic review of systematic reviews”. http://hlwiki.slais.ubc.ca/index.php/Effective_uses_of_social_media_in_healthcare:_a_living_systematic_review_of_reviews

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5210/ojphi.v10i2.8270

Online Journal of Public Health Informatics * ISSN 1947-2579 * http://ojphi.org