CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 · Yearb Med Inform 2020; 29(01): 176-183
DOI: 10.1055/s-0040-1702022
Section 7: Consumer Health Informatics and Education
Georg Thieme Verlag KG Stuttgart

Social Media, Research, and Ethics: Does Participant Willingness Matter?

Findings from the 2020 International Medical Informatics Association (IMIA) Yearbook of Medical Informatics, Section on Consumer Health Informatics and Education
Pascal Staccini
1  IRIS Department, Lab RETINES, Faculté de Médecine, Université Côte d’Azur, France
Annie Y. S. Lau
2  Centre for Health Informatics, Australian Institute of Health Innovation, Macquarie University, Australia
Section Editors for the IMIA Yearbook Section on Consumer Health Informatics and Education› Institutsangaben
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21. August 2020 (online)


Objective: To summarise the state of the art published in 2019 in consumer health informatics and education, with a special emphasis on “Ethics and Health Informatics”.

Methods: We conducted a systematic search of articles published in PubMed using a predefined set of queries, which identified 368 potential articles for review. These articles were screened according to topic relevance and 15 were selected for consideration of best paper candidates, which were then presented to a panel of international experts for full paper review and scoring. The top five papers according to the external reviewers’ ranking were discussed in a consensus meeting. Finally, the paper that received the highest score from four of the five experts was selected as the best paper on social media and ethics for patients and consumers of the year 2019.

Results: Despite using the terms “ethics” and “ethical” in the search query, we retrieved very few articles. The bibliometric analysis identified three major clusters centred on “social”, “health”, and “study”. Among the top five papers, one was a review where the authors identified ethical issues across four areas at the intersection of social media and health: 1) the impact of social networking sites on the doctor-patient relationship; 2) the development of e-health platforms to deliver care; 3) the use of online data and algorithms to inform health research; and 4) the broader public health consequences of widespread social media use. The other papers highlighted ethical concerns in using social media to interact with patients at different phases of a clinical research protocol, such as recruitment phase, participant engagement, data linkage, and detection and monitoring of adverse events.

Conclusions: Findings suggest that most users do not think that using social media for patient monitoring in clinical research, for example using Twitter for clinical trial recruitment, constitutes inappropriate surveillance or a violation of privacy. However, further research is needed to identify whether and how views on ethical concerns differed between social media platforms and across populations.