BYLINE: Jacqueline Mitchell

Newswise — Yuri Quintana, PhD, believes in the power of technology. While there’s little debate that social media has the potential to cause great harm, Quintana – who is chief of the Division of Clinical Informatics, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center – notes there’s a growing body of evidence that social media can also be beneficial.

“Social media can be anonymous and non-judgmental for sharing experiences and getting peer support from others dealing with similar conditions,” said Quintana, who is also an assistant professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. “But, there are also potential dangers that can lead some to self-harm and we need to understand how to safeguard people, particularly young children.”

To Quintana, the question is not whether the technology is good or bad, but why the industry – alone among all others – is allowed to regulate itself. “Even Mark Zuckerberg has gone on record that new regulatory paradigms are needed,” Quintana said.

Quintana has developed award-winning apps – including what he calls “serious games” – that are designed to improve healthcare delivery. His work focuses on the use of digital technologies to facilitate communication between care providers, patients and their families, monitor mental health or share best practices across healthcare organizations around the world.

Quintana’s innovations – essentially digital therapeutic devices – are poised to do dramatic good; yet, like any new treatment or therapy, they are subject to rigorous trials and governmental and institutional oversight before they can be unleashed on healthcare consumers. “Yet, social media platforms remain entirely unregulated,” Quintana said.

Quintana and colleague Eric Perakslis, PhD, chief science and digital officer at Duke University School of Medicine, have written a position paper urging change to how harmful content is reviewed and removed.

“We know social media is addictive and can isolate users from their families, and we know it can radicalize susceptible people towards mass violence,” Quintana said. “The core challenge is that addiction and behavioral influence are the social media business model. Accountable content moderation is needed, with steep fines and loss of revenue for harmful content.”

However, government efforts at content moderation on social media platforms tend to be seen in the United States as potential infringements on the first amendment. Quintana offers a unique solution: regulate social media as a digital therapeutic, similar to the way drugs and medical devices are regulated.

Under their proposed plan, social media companies would be required to collect and share detailed safety data about their products. Consumers and health providers would be able to officially report incidents of harmful content and adverse effects, which government regulators would investigate, similar to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration’s Adverse Events Reporting System.   

Finally, they suggest that social media companies should partner with governments and NGOs to actively combat the global twin epidemics of depression and suicide.  

“We have spent billions bailing out banks,” Quintana concludes. “Why can we not spend billions saving our children?”


Quintana’s Recent Publications

Social Media is Addictive and Influences Behavior: Should it Be Regulated as a Digital Therapeutic?

Perakslis E, Quintana Y. J Med Internet Res 2023;25:e43174; DOI: 10.2196/43174

Understanding the social determinants of health and genetic factors contributing to the differences observed in COVID-19 incidence and mortality between underrepresented and other communities.

Rodriguez J, Quintana Y. J Natl Med Assoc. 2022 Aug;114(4):430-439. doi: 10.1016/j.jnma.2022.04.002. Epub 2022 May 2. PMID: 35513921


Digital Vaccine Passports and digital health diplomacy: an online Model WHO simulation.

Godinho MA, Liaw ST, Kanjo C, Marin HF, Martins H, Quintana Y. J Am Med Inform Assoc. 2022 Jul 22:ocac126. doi: 10.1093/jamia/ocac126. Online ahead of print. PMID: 35866622


Proposed Patient-Inclusive Methodology for Developing and Validating Patient Experience Surveys.

Izower M, Quintana Y. Stud Health Technol Inform. 2022 Jun 6;290:410-413. doi: 10.3233/SHTI220107. PMID: 35673046


 "Digital Health Diplomacy" in Global Digital Health? A call for critique and discourse.

Godinho MA, Martins H, Al-Shorbaji N, Quintana Y, Liaw ST. J Am Med Inform Assoc. 2022 Apr 13;29(5):1019-1024. doi: 10.1093/jamia/ocab282. PMID: 34927681


A Proposed Patient-Inclusive Methodology for Developing and Validating Telehealth Surveys that Include Social Determinants of Health.

Izower M, Liao Z, Kim J, Quintana Y. AMIA Annu Symp Proc. 2022 Feb 21;2021:565-570. eCollection 2021. PMID: 35308979