Yearb Med Inform 2015; 24(01): 137-147
DOI: 10.15265/IY-2015-001
Original Article
Georg Thieme Verlag KG Stuttgart

Ethical Issues of Social Media Usage in Healthcare

K. Denecke
1   University of Leipzig, Innovation Center Computer Assisted Surgery, Leipzig, Germany
P. Bamidis
2   Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Faculty of Health Sciences, Thessaloniki, Greece
C. Bond
3   Bournemouth University, School of Health and Social Care, Bournemouth, United Kingdom
E. Gabarron
1   University of Leipzig, Innovation Center Computer Assisted Surgery, Leipzig, Germany
M. Househ
5   College of Public Health and Health Informatics, King Saud Bin Abdulaziz University for Health Sciences, Ministry of National Guard - Health Affairs, Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
A. Y. S. Lau
6   Centre for Health Informatics, Australian Institute of Health Innovation, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia
M. A. Mayer
7   Department of Experimental and Health Sciences, Universitat Pompeu Fabra - IMIM (Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute), Barcelona, Spain
M. Merolli
8   University of Melbourne, Health and Biomedical Informatics Centre, Melbourne, Australia
M. Hansen
9   University of San Francisco, School of Nursing and Health Professions, San Francisco, USA
› Author Affiliations
Further Information

Publication History

13 August 2015

Publication Date:
10 March 2018 (online)


Objective: Social media, web and mobile technologies are increasingly used in healthcare and directly support patient-centered care. Patients benefit from disease self-management tools, contact to others, and closer monitoring. Researchers study drug efficiency, or recruit patients for clinical studies via these technologies. However, low communication barriers in social-media, limited privacy and security issues lead to problems from an ethical perspective. This paper summarizes the ethical issues to be considered when social media is exploited in healthcare contexts.

Methods: Starting from our experiences in social-media research, we collected ethical issues for selected social-media use cases in the context of patient-centered care. Results were enriched by collecting and analyzing relevant literature and were discussed and interpreted by members of the IMIA Social Media Working Group.

Results: Most relevant issues in social-media applications are confidence and privacy that need to be carefully preserved. The patient-physician relationship can suffer from the new information gain on both sides since private information of both healthcare provider and consumer may be accessible through the Internet. Physicians need to ensure they keep the borders between private and professional intact. Beyond, preserving patient anonymity when citing Internet content is crucial for research studies.

Conclusion: Exploiting medical social-media in healthcare applications requires a careful reflection of roles and responsibilities. Availability of data and information can be useful in many settings, but the abuse of data needs to be prevented. Preserving privacy and confidentiality of online users is a main issue, as well as providing means for patients or Internet users to express concerns on data usage.