The Role of Social Media and Internet Search Engines in Information Provision and Dissemination to Patients with Kidney Stone Disease: A Systematic Review from EAU Young Academic Urologists – Beyond the Abstract

Kidney stone disease (KSD) is a global issue that is increasing in prevalence. It is believed that poor diet (high protein and/or sodium consumption, or low calcium intake), increasing obesity rates (coupled with an increase in average body mass index), and low urine output (insufficient fluid intake) contribute to kidney stone formation. Therefore, these dietary/lifestyle factors are often targeted in the prevention or management of KSD.

Social media (SoMe) are Web 2.0-based applications that enable the creation, and publication, of user-generated content. SoMe include social networking sites, video sharing sites, blogs, web-based or smartphone-based applications, and wikis. The use of SoMe is increasing, and not just with younger generations. A study by the Office for National Statistics showed that in 2017, 88% of adults in Great Britain used the internet every week (a 51% increase from 2006). It was also found that an increasing number of adults (78%) use the internet whilst ‘on the go’, via their smartphones. This could be aided, in part, by the explosive increase in smartphone usage, with over 39% of the world’s population possessing a smartphone (a figure which is predicted to rise to 59% as soon as 2022). As SoMe usage increases, so does the influence that it has on the medical decisions of the patients that use it.

Patients have already begun using SoMe to find online support groups, and to share advice with each other. Additionally, several studies have shown that mobile technology has, thus far, improved patients’ adherence to, and understanding of, their medical conditions and treatment. SoMe is also being used by healthcare professionals in order to aid in the management and prevention of diseases.

Facebook, the most widely used SoMe application, has an average of 2.07 billion active users worldwide. In the United States, the SoMe platform ‘WebView’ has been trialed, enabling patients to contact their doctors with any medical queries or to order repeat medication. Furthermore, some medical professionals have begun using Facebook and Twitter, in order to educate their patients as well as more closely monitor their progress with any management or treatment that has been suggested. Using SoMe in this way has highlighted potential issues, with several healthcare professionals voicing concerns that it could potentially lead to ethical problems, however, the majority of medical professionals surveyed agreed that this form of interaction between doctors and their patients was favorable and could lead to positive health outcomes. A survey conducted by the PwC Health Research Institute found that approximately 90% of participants surveyed stated that they would trust the medical information they found on SoMe networks. It is, therefore, a consideration that SoMe may be utilized by both healthcare professionals and their patients, in order to aid in educating patients about their conditions, as well as improving their adherence to medical management and treatment, enhancing their motivation to comply with recommended regimes, and improving doctor-patient relationships.

An internet search engine is a software that is used to collect and organize content from the world wide web. It has been found that 72% of those using the internet have used it in order to find health information. Of this 72% of internet users, nearly 77% begin their search for health information by utilizing a search engine. Furthermore, a study conducted by the National Centre for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) found that 11% of people surveyed admitted to using online health information in place of contacting their doctor. It can, therefore, be seen that search engines may be a useful tool for both health promotion and providing patients with medical information.

In light of the increasing prevalence of KSD, and of search engine and SoMe usage (and the potential benefits that they could both offer), this paper aimed to systematically review the current literature regarding search engines and SoMe, and their use within the prevention and management of KSD, to determine what benefits (if any) have been found thus far, and to discover whether SoMe and search engine usage and availability has changed over time with respect to KSD management and prevention. Overall, all papers reviewed found that SoMe and search engine usage is increasing with regards to KSD. Therefore, these are tools which can be accessed by healthcare professionals in order to improve the management and prevention of KSD within their patient populations. The information which was provided, regarding dietary aspects and fluid management, was good. However, information regarding advice on other aspects of KSD prevention (blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes) was lacking.

Written by: 
Enakshee Jamnadsass, University Hospitals Southampton NHS Trust, Urology, Southampton, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 
Bhaskar K Somani, MRCS, FEBU, DM, FRCS, Associate professor in Urology, University Hospitals Southampton NHS Trust, Urology, Southampton, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

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