Social Media Plays a Major Role in Diagnosing Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Jill Murphy, Assistant Editor
Published Online: Wednesday, November 6th, 2019
Crowdsourcing a medical diagnosis for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) throughout various health communities on the Internet has become a new trend, a JAMA study showed. 1
Many Internet users are sharing images of STDs, such as genital sores or rashes, with the public, followed by a detailed description of their symptoms. Answers from other users are usually within minutes of the original post. 1
The study found that 90% of posts received a reply in the course of 24 hours. In addition, 20% of the people asked the crowd for a second opinion after already being diagnosed by a medical professional for STDs. 1
Experts say that the crowdsourcing trend might stem from a lack of money to pay for medical services or setting up a timely appointment with a doctor. However, this trend has stirred up mixed opinions with different doctors across the country. 1
Dr. Amesh Adalja sees an opportunity in utilizing health care through social media. "This phenomenon should be seen as an opportunity for health care providers to engage with patients on social media to ensure accurate diagnosis and advice is being given," said Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center on Health Security in Baltimore who also reviewed the JAMA study. "Exploiting the ease of social media inquiry will likely become an increasingly important way to interact with patients." 2
On the other hand, STD specialist Dr. Ina Park sees the downfall of crowdsourcing. “For those who already have a medical diagnosis and are still seeking a second opinion through crowdsourcing, I do think it’s potentially dangerous because you have no idea who’s giving you this advice and their expertise.” 1
  1. Some crowdsource their STD diagnosis on the internet. Here’s why that’s dangerous to everyone. CNN Health. Published November 5, 2019. Accessed November 6, 2019.
  2. ‘Hey, What is This?’: Social media, not docs, increasingly diagnosing STDs. U.S. News. Published November 5, 2019. Accessed November 6, 2019.

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