People are increasingly turning to social media to diagnose medical conditions. This has even extended to the diagnosis of sexually transmitted diseases, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. It is leaving many people wondering why anyone would crowdsource a STD diagnosis.
John Ayers, the study’s author and a computational epidemiologist at University of California, San Diego, along with co-author Alicia Nobles, a data scientist at UC San Diego, set out to answer this question. They first had to determine how many people were seeking medical diagnoses on social media. For that, they turned to Reddit.
Social media platform Reddit is ranked as the 6th most visited website in the United States. It is organized by hundreds of topics, with many focused on health. The study analyzed the Reddit STD community, called “r/STD.” The community encourages its more than 10,000 members to share stories, concerns and questions about sexually transmitted diseases. Anyone who signs up as a member can respond.
Between November 2010 and February 2019, users shared nearly 17,000 posts to the forum. For the study, the researchers focused on a random sampling of 500 posts. They focused on the nature of the posts themselves and timing of the subsequent replies. They found that Reddit users appear eager to ask for help and offer medical assessments.
The researchers found that 58 peecent of surveyed posts to r/STD specifically requested a diagnosis of their symptoms, with nearly a third of those including photos of the apparent STD in question. The majority of requests got answers quickly, with about 80 percent of requests answered in less than one day, and some answered within hours. The study also found that the diagnoses offered by the crowd were often “wildly inaccurate,” and the types of treatments users recommended frequently went against what a doctor would recommend.