Social media use in healthcare: A systematic review of effects on patients and on their relationship with healthcare professionals

Edin Smailhodzic*, Wyanda Hooijsma, Albert Boonstra, David J. Langley

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

437 Citations (Scopus)
5005 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Since the emergence of social media in 2004, a growing percentage of patients use this technology for health related reasons. To reflect on the alleged beneficial and potentially harmful effects of social media use by patients, the aim of this paper is to provide an overview of the extant literature on the effects of social media use for health related reasons on patients and their relationship with healthcare professionals.

Methods: We conducted a systematic literature review on empirical research regarding the effects of social media use by patients for health related reasons. The papers we included met the following selection criteria: (1) published in a peer-reviewed journal, (2) written in English, (3) full text available to the researcher, (4) contain primary empirical data, (5) the users of social media are patients, (6) the effects of patients using social media are clearly stated, (7) satisfy established quality criteria.

Results: Initially, a total of 1,743 articles were identified from which 22 were included in the study. From these articles six categories of patients' use of social media were identified, namely: emotional, information, esteem, network support, social comparison and emotional expression. The types of use were found to lead to seven identified types of effects on patients, namely improved self-management and control, enhanced psychological well-being, and enhanced subjective well-being, diminished subjective well-being, addiction to social media, loss of privacy, and being targeted for promotion. Social media use by patients was found to affect the healthcare professional and patient relationship, by leading to more equal communication between the patient and healthcare professional, increased switching of doctors, harmonious relationships, and suboptimal interaction between the patient and healthcare professional.

Conclusions: Our review provides insights into the emerging utilization of social media in healthcare. In particular, it identifies types of use by patients as well as the effects of such use, which may differ between patients and doctors. Accordingly, our results framework and propositions can serve to guide future research, and they also have practical implications for healthcare providers and policy makers.

Original languageEnglish
Article number442
Number of pages14
JournalBMC Health Services Research
Issue number442
Publication statusPublished - 26-Aug-2016


  • Social media
  • Health
  • Patients
  • Healthcare professionals

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