Promoting Participatory Medicine With Social Media

New Media Applications on Hospital Websites That Enhance Health Education and e-Patients' Voices

Linda M. Gallant; Cynthia Irizarry; Gloria Boone; Gary L. Kreps


J Participat Med. 2011;3 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Background and Objective: The nature of health communication is changing as people increasingly seek health information on the internet. The objective of this study was to investigate how hospital websites utilize a variety of e-health tools; online communication technologies such as social media, video, podcasts, and interactive formats.
Methods: An inductive content analysis was performed on the websites of 14 top-ranked US hospitals from January 5, 2011 to February 28, 2011. A total of 1,330 web pages were analyzed to identify the types of online communication technologies utilized by hospitals to provide e-patients with health information.
Findings: The findings provided an exploratory look at how hospitals provide web-based health information to patients. All hospitals used social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube. Most hospitals offered web-based broadcasting of health information. Online health tools such as body mass index (BMI) calculators and health dictionaries were also a common website feature. Less frequently employed were mobile applications, hospital-patient interaction tools and health blogs.
Implications: The convergence of interactive media formats with web-based communication tools will likely enhance e-patient education and promote patient involvement in ways that alter traditional health care interactions, and may lead to enhanced levels of participatory medicine.


The nature of health communication is changing as people increasingly rely on the internet for health information.[1] Frydman[2] asserted that patients have used the internet since its early inception "to share experiences, learn about diseases and treatments, and become advocates" for their own health care. A recent Pew Research Center study found that 80% of internet users look online for health information, making it the third most popular activity behind email and search.[3] More than half of online health searches have had an impact on health decisions by e-patients.[4] E-patients are internet-savvy users who seek online health information for education and decision making. Understanding web-based communication tool development that engages e-patients can better guide effective healthcare strategies and interventions[5] and enhance participatory medicine.

While hospitals are cornerstones of public health information and health education,[6,7,8] it is not known to what extent hospital websites are helping to achieve these important health goals. Past research has indicated that hospitals are just starting to use web 2.0 technologies to communicate and interact with e-patients.[9] Thus, it is important to examine how hospitals use their websites to carry out their critical health care mission with various media and content delivery formats.

The current study examines how 14 top-ranked US hospitals serve the information needs of e-patients through online interactive media formats on their websites. Health organizations and professionals need to use social media channels to promote reliable and accurate health information to e-patients.[10] Yet, there is little research regarding the nature of presentation of health information on hospital websites to guide this process. Knowledge about the use of new media by top-ranked US hospital websites may help health care administrators and other professionals assess and improve web-based health communication. The importance of web-based communication media formats for e-health leads to the following research question: How is health information represented in online media formats for e-patients on hospital websites?


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