InstaSHAM: social media influencers hurting our health?

Just as Instagram, Youtube and Snapchat have influencers that litter our social media feeds so too does medicine.

Chronic diseases occupy an online world of memes, hashtags such as #hospitalglam, and people who provide medical insights to follower communities that too feel voiceless. As a result pharmaceutical companies are hiring these patient influencers to reach and connect with audience groups and of course sell them medicine.

Similar to mainstream #fitspo and wellness bloggers, patient influencers attract business via the size of their online following particularly how many blog subscribers and impressions they have made. From health-start ups, market research companies, brand strategy agencies with pharmaceutical clients a sub-category of the medical industry has made a lucrative business. Bringing in people who actually live with diseases to publicise their products.

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Source: Karolyn Gehrig’s Instagram

However the medical field has been spammed with skepticism. Promoter or patient? Practitioners are concerned bloggers are blurring the line between sponsored content and real life by leveraging consumer trust.

“When it comes to health care the stakes are a lot higher than choosing the right juice cleanse.

“In some sense, influencers in health care aren’t any different from those in fashion or food blogging; they all have conflicts of interest,” says Jeff Belkora, a health policy researcher at the University of California.

Patients offering valuable insight and experiences of different treatments provides social media users an outlet to voice their concerns and overcome stigmas that accompany chronic diseases. However transparency is key, with practitioners calling for ill social media users to not follow blindly and carefully consider their options first.

“The risks of poor health advice is real. In Australia, we have seen mothers who have starved their children pretty much to death following crackpot theories put forward by the unqualified”, says Caroline Overington, The Australian editor discussing ‘wellness gurus’ paleo Pete Evans and Belle Gibson.

Source: Google Images

So what are your thoughts? Should ill patients be hired to influence certain online communities with  sponsored products? If so and things go sour, should the social media influencer be liable?