A leading pioneer on the use of social media discusses some of the key obstacles to their more intensive use by patients and others in health and medical care.

Patients with serious illnesses have been using the Internet to meet one another and share stories online since at least the early 1980’s. In recent years, the popularity of social networks like Facebook and Twitter, or medico-centric social networks such as PatientsLikeMe and 23andMe, have taken these opportunities to the next level. To date there have been a number of research studies resulting from social networks including clinical trials, questionnaire development, and even improved biological understanding of disease. But problems remain; issues of consent, privacy, and validation present serious obstacles to be overcome. The mainstream medical research estabishment continues to regard the Internet with caution; how can we bridge the gap?