This article explores the range of social media platforms used by patients and examines the benefits and challenges of using these tools from a patient perspective. A literature review was performed to investigate the use of social media technology by patients. The MEDLINE database was searched using the terms "social media" and "patient." The search was conducted in September 2012 and yielded 765 abstracts. Initially, 63 abstracts were selected. All articles dating from 2004 through 2012 were included. Only 12 articles were found to be relevant for the purposes of the review. The results of this research found that there appears to be an increase in the use of social media by patients across the healthcare spectrum. The research indicates a promising future for the use of social media by patients; however, evidence related to the efficacy and effectiveness of social media is currently limited. Various challenges have also been identified relating to privacy and security concerns, usability, the manipulation of identity, and misinformation. The use of social media technology is an emerging trend for patients who are seeking health information. Conclusions are that such technology holds promise for improving patient engagement and empowerment and community building. Social media has a future in healthcare, especially with regard to patient engagement and empowerment; however, there are several challenges to overcome before the technology can achieve its potential.
Keywords: E-health; healthcare; patient empowerment; patient engagement; social media benefits; social media challenges; technology.