Online Social Networking

Team Zorg Enablers
Published on
Trends | Consultation


“The power of online social networking is it forces necessary change”

Erik Qualman


The Online Social Networking (OSN) platform is in continuous development [1]. The term refers to an internet-oriented tool that offers both individuals and communities the ability to create and share content, social interactions and real-time collaborations. In addition, OSN refers to the various ways in which businesses, healthy and sick people and others can meet online [2, 3]. OSN eases the process to gaining knowledge together and sharing experiences.


Applications & benefits

OSN offers both healthcare consumers and healthcare professionals a tool for sharing and finding information. Users can discuss healthcare policy and practical matters, promote healthy behaviour, exchange data, share accurate information, distribute information quickly, form networks and interact with other healthcare consumers and/or professionals [3, 4]. It constitutes a dynamic community where the content is generated by the user who can enter into an open dialogue with one or multiple users. The Lifeline Corona study found that people felt more sombre, lethargic and lonely during the pandemic [5]. Considering the declining mental health in the Netherlands, the option of having an open dialogue online proved very beneficial. OSN was able to support a lot of people by connecting them [6].



The statistics speak to OSN’s continued growth: 83.4% of 4.5 billion global internet users and 90.7% of 4.2 billion mobile internet users make use of social media. In addition, 3.9 billion people used social media globally with the average user totalling 8.8 social media accounts in 2020 [7-9]. Back in 2014, the average number of social media account totalled a ‘mere’ 4.8. One application that social media is being used for is to actively seek and share health information. This may vary from a simple search on how to alleviate a common cold to extensive descriptions of a disease process on a personal blog [8, 9]. A recent study shows that 80% of social media users that gather health information on platforms, look for reviews and experiences about the quality of hospitals and healthcare professionals. Or simply seek news updates on healthcare and the medical world [9]. In 2000 and 2003, only 42% and 49% of people was using the internet to obtain health information [10].


Driving forces

Increased awareness and growing acceptance
Growing connectivity and improved data infrastructure
Changing healthcare needs

Hindering forces

Data leads to misinterpretation
Increasing emphasis on privacy sensitivity
Ethical considerations

OSN is being driven by increasing connectivity and shifting healthcare needs, but some risks are involved as well. As we are developing an increasing number of applications for sharing personal health information and also ask people to share health information, it is a challenge to assure the privacy of personal data and patients [11-13]. We will also have to safeguard against breaching the patient-doctor relationship [14, 15]. There is an ongoing discussion about the online distribution of conspiracy theories and inaccuracies about vaccination and COVID-19 [16]. The quality and reliability of information on the platforms therefore deserves the proper scrutiny [17]. Meanwhile, the pandemic has emphasised the importance and relevance of OSN. Companies and individuals witnessed a considerable increase in social media use during the pandemic both in the context of business and social. The desire to keep in touch is strong when physical contact is no longer an option [18].



The use of online social networking is set to increase in the years ahead, which will include healthcare. Future patients will have even higher expectations when it comes to the ability to exchange and transfer their information and communication via this route. The healthcare system will have to handle this properly with attention to privacy legislation compliance when it comes to the patients’ data.


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