Outcomes of E-Word-of-Mouth Use in the Health Domain: Are the Physicians-Patients Boundaries Blurring?

Friday, 20 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Esther BRAININ, Ruppin Academic Center, Israel
Keren LANDSMAN, Levinski Health Care Clinic - Israel Ministry of Health, Israel
Social network sites and social media in general are becoming health care information hubs. People want to learn from each other, not just from institutions, and to partake in the conversation about their own health. Medical professionals' quasi-monopoly on knowledge about diseases and treatments create a crucial disparity in power between patients and doctors. The boundaries between medical experts and laypeople serve as an essential tool for preserving the current hierarchy of knowledge production and diffusion. A force that goes against this kind of hierarchy is the lay opinion system. For years, WOM has been shown to be one of the most influential sources of information for health care decisions. Currently, more and more consumers are turning to the Internet to help make important health care decisions. Creating and uploading content to the network effectively turns the users into significant participants in the lives of their anonymous acquaintances and peers, thanks to the technological platform that provides a virtual place to conduct and maintain online social activities. The purpose of the current study was to explore what people do with the recommendations they receive through e-WOM. Using an Internet survey of 970 individuals found on various Israeli health forums, we assessed the extent and outcomes of active and passive use of health-care-related e-WOM. The results show that participants used these as leverage to convince the physician to take steps that are not essential and some of them refused to follow the physician’s recommendations, in light of information obtained via e-WOM. The patients' new knowledge did not help them engage their physicians in conversations about the purpose and nature of tests or procedures already received, about the care they truly needed, or about choices of evidence-based care involving minimal harm, but helped them feel more involved in their own healthcare decisions.