Looking for a prescription to treat your misery-inducing migraines? Check Facebook. Trying to step up your skin care routine? Start scrolling through Instagram. Need a new birth control? An ad will tell you there’s an app for that.
Targeted medical ads on social media are making it easier than ever for people to get boutique health care without ever talking to a doctor.
More than ever, millennials, in particular, are skipping the waiting room and getting their medical care straight from their smart phone. Experts say the practice is changing the face of modern medicine, but not always for the better.
“We’re going to see more and more of this,” said Tom Jelneck with Orlando-based On Target Digital Marketing. “It is the wave of the future when it comes to health care.”
Jelneck said 10% of his client portfolio is health care-related businesses, with many of them opting to target clients on social media.
“We have capabilities to target an audience based on their likes, dislikes their age, et cetera,” Jelneck said. “So for us, it's gold to reach that audience with these targeted ads.”
Depending on your demographic, a quick scroll through social media may offer you custom dermatological prescriptions, prescribed serums to grow your eyelashes or birth control sent straight to your door.
But is it safe? That’s what Channel 9 investigative reporter Karla Ray asked Dr. Alix Casler, the medical director for Orlando Health’s Department of Population Health.
“That's a really good question,” she said. “The short answer, I would say, most of the time, yes, but you never know because sometimes, no.”
Orlando Health is one of many hospitals offering telehealth services, which allows people to receive a diagnosis or prescription over the phone or FaceTime after a discussion but no actual visit with a doctor.
It's a service that's skyrocketed in popularity, growing more than 1,200% from 2012 to 2017.
“Obviously, when something like this comes up, everyone wants to get in the game. No. 1, there are dollars to be made. No. 2, convenience is appealing,” Casler said.
The companies that targeted Ray while she was researching this story didn't require a conversation with a doctor. Instead, they relied on an online questionnaire.
Casler said while most of the services being offered are generally safe, there are always certain risks for certain patients.
“Medical care is a little more complicated than nonmedical people think it is,” she said. “A lot more goes into the decision making and the informed consent. So, yes, sometimes it's a little less convenient to get to know your doctor, but there's tremendous value in it.”
Casler said one popular social media-marketed service that can carry some risk for certain people is for prescription birth control.
She said birth control can cause blood clots depending on a person’s blood pressure. So, she said, if people guess what their blood pressure is when they fill out the online questionnaire, that can cause real problems down the road.
Only one company that targeted Ray on social media got back to her about how they approach patient safety. The CEO of prescription skin care company Musely called Ray directly.
He said their staff has identified conditions based on submission photos from patients that could be serious skin conditions, or even cancer. He said those patients were referred to in-person doctor visits.
The CEO said the major benefit of the social media-marketed services is that it can provide specialty care to a wider audience. That’s especially true, he said, when it comes to dermatology, because it can take a long time to get an in-person visit unless someone is an established patient.
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