A paper in the Christmas edition of the Danish Medical Journal attempts to ask whether we can trust our Facebook friends with providing a differential diagnosis. One of the authors, Dr. Peter Hallas, modestly asked that we take a look at his paper, so we jumped at the chance and think he should give himself and his co-authors a lot of credit for studying phenomena that are already occurring.
The study (in Danish) involved asking subjects to post a clinical scenario on their wall and ask their friends for a potential diagnosis. The setup for the paper by Dr. Lars Folkestad and others seems a little artificial, but if you consider that a certain amount of diseases are infectious or genetic in origin then a question to your social and/or family circles is likely to find someone who has had a similar episode and already been diagnosed.
From the English abstract:
INTRODUCTION: In contrast to Internet search engines, social media on the Internet such as Facebook, Twitter, etc. reach a large number of people, who are ready to help answering questions. This type of information aggregation has been dubbed “crowdsourcing” i.e. outsourcing a task to a large group of people or community (a crowd) through an open call. Our aim was to explore whether laypersons via Facebook friends could crowd source their way to a medical diagnosis based on a brief medical history, posted as a status update on Facebook.
MATERIAL AND METHODS: The participants posted a brief case story on their Facebook profile and asked their »Facebook friends” to come up with possible diagnoses.
RESULTS: The correct diagnosis was suggested in five of the six case stories, and the correct diagnosis was made after a median of ten minutes. The quality of the responses varied from relevant differential diagnoses to very silly diagnostic suggestions.
CONCLUSION: Based on this study, we believe that laypersons can use his or her »Facebook friends” to identify the need to see a doctor for their symptoms rather than relying on them to give them a specific diagnosis for their symptoms.
While we wish we could read the rest of the study, it seems ever more likely that Facebook and other social networks will continue to inform patients, perhaps supplementing WebMD and Wikipedia as the first source for many patients wondering the source of that cough or bump.
Danish Medical Journal: Laypersons can seek help from their Facebook friends regarding medical diagnosis