Did you hear the one about the doctor?

February 24, 2014

LEBANON, NH (Feb. 24, 2014) - In a study that demonstrates the potential of using social networking sites for research on health and medicine, Dartmouth researchers studied jokes made about doctors posted on Facebook.

"Social networking sites, such as Facebook, have become immensely popular in recent years and present a unique opportunity for researchers to eavesdrop on the collective conversation of current societal issues," said Matthew Davis of The Dartmouth Institute of Health Policy & Clinical Practice.

In one of the first studies of social networking site conversations pertaining to health and medicine, Davis and colleagues examined the prevalence and success of doctor jokes posted on Facebook. The study is published in the February edition of the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

The researchers studied more than 33,000 Facebook users, who gave permission to have everything on their Facebook wall monitored, and identified 263 (0.79%) Facebook users who posted a joke that referenced doctors during a six-month observation period.

Davis and colleagues studied the characteristics of 156 unique doctor jokes that were associated with getting an "electronic laugh (e.g., a LOL, ROTFL) from the social network and the number of Facebook "likes" jokes received. Jokes in which the doctor (or the healthcare system) was the butt of the joke tended to be more successful, although the association was not statistically significant. Ironically, the joke in the study that received the greatest number of Facebook likes was a "doctor, lawyer, priest joke" in which the lawyer was the butt of the joke.

In recent years, the researchers said, there is a growing interest in social networking sites to employ health interventions and to identify certain health behaviors. To date, there have been few empirical studies in the biomedical literature that examined conversations on social networking sites in non-patient population groups. "While our study took a lighthearted look at the world of doctor-related humor, our work does demonstrate the potential of using social networking sites for research on health and medicine," Davis said.
The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy & Clinical Practice was founded in 1988 by Dr. John E. Wennberg as the Center for the Evaluative Clinical Sciences (CECS). Among its 25 years of accomplishments, it has established a new discipline and educational focus in the Evaluative Clinical Sciences, introduced and advanced the concept of shared decision-making for patients, demonstrated unwarranted variation in the practice and outcomes of medical treatment, developed the first comprehensive examination of US health care variations (The Dartmouth Atlas), and has shown that more health care is not necessarily better care.

The Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth

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