Social media platforms allow you to view the latest news, pictures and videos from friends and the latest trends online. You can also exchange messages or make video calls with just a few taps. But there is also a more serious side. Hashtags can draw attention to topics like illness and politics.

Hashtags are words, acronyms, or phrases that are preceded by a #. They help filter online posts.

Hashtags and breast cancer

Nine years ago the hashtag #BCSM (for “Breast Cancer Social Media”) was spread on social media. It has since been a valuable resource for patients, doctors, and researchers.

“We doctors can learn a lot from online patient communities,” said Dr. Deanna Attai in a press release. Dr. Attai is Assistant Professor of Surgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA).

Hashtags are subtle yet effective phrases that can influence the mindset. A negative hashtag can evoke negative emotions, like bullying and harassment. However, a positive hashtag can lead people to tackle issues like discrimination, racism, climate change, COVID-19, and cancer. As long as hashtags are allowed, they can help raise awareness and empower communities.

Ralph Chen is an enthusiast for medical topics and advanced technology. When he’s not writing, he spends a lot of time playing popular PC games.

The study

UCLA researchers analyzed data from January 1, 2011 through January 1, 2020. They filtered #BCSM based on various categories such as chat activity and topics, and found that the hashtag was used more than 830,000 times by more than 75,000 unique Twitter accounts has been .

From year one to year nine, # BCOM tweets rose 424%. Patient advocacy tweets rose 226%, peaking in 2016. Even doctors and other health professionals participated, increasing tweets by 693%.

The tweets showed various chat topics: survival, breast cancer spread, death, and advocacy. This single hashtag touched hundreds of thousands of lives around the world and connected women from different countries and cultures, including those battling breast cancer.

Social media and healthcare professionals

Healthcare professionals cannot diagnose people on social media. However, that doesn’t mean they can’t join forums, online communities, and group chats to guide people. An active presence on social media can provide them with information and perspectives that they might otherwise have overlooked.

A post from the University of Scranton discussed how health professionals can use social media:

Share information

Professionals can use social media to share important information. When a disease breaks out, social media is a powerful tool for providing accurate details, fighting misleading news and raising public awareness.

Check quality

Getting to know people online and their views on health recommendations can help health professionals. Each opinion can improve healthcare, customer service, and patient query handling. This is key to strengthening the relationship between patients and health workers.

Train medical staff

Healthcare workers need hands-on experience to become effective doctors. One way is to use social media, especially hashtags, to connect with individuals or groups online. Some health organizations promote this style of learning to train medical students who can have firsthand experience with questions and answers or presentations with instant feedback.

Live updates during the procedure

This is still controversial as the live interaction during medical procedures is usually private and potentially distracting. But the trend is growing and many doctors and surgeons welcome the idea. The main goal is to give live updates to other doctors, medical students, and even curious people for educational purposes.

Communicate in times of crisis

Social media enables organizations like the Red Cross, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the World Health Organization to provide updates to healthcare workers almost instantly. The practitioners then act as intermediaries to bring the latest and most accurate information to the public.

Hashtags may look simple, but words can have a significant impact. If you want to learn more about COVID-19 or other health news, use hashtags on your social media app just like you would use keywords in search engines.