Do you have a headache, back pain, mole that has changed color or have a question about medication side effects? Looking for answers? Do you tweet, blog or post about it? Statistics say that the majority of you do.
Access to social media has changed the face of healthcare. It is expected that there will be a billion users on Facebook by the end of 2012 and currently there are 175 million registered users on twitter sending out approximately 95 million tweets per day. Social media sites provide a platform for the quick exchange of medical information and guidance on where to turn for healthcare support.
These sites are not only changing how consumers use the web to obtain health related information but is also changing the business side of healthcare. Millions of people worldwide report using the internet to read about medical conditions and to seek healthcare support. In fact, 88% of caregivers reportedly use the internet to find answers to health questions, review hospital ratings and explore end of life issues.
One study found that while the majority of people search medical conditions and symptoms there are an increasing number of users looking online for drug and food safety information. There is also a growing trend of users searching for information on dementia, memory loss, and long-term care needs for the elderly. Further, many report using social media sites not only to gather information but also to share their own medical stories, rate doctors and facilities and connect with support groups.
However, the enthusiasm of using social media in healthcare is not without controversy. There continues to be some debate among consumers and healthcare providers as well as organizations on whether health information belongs on the web. While the cautionary tale of inaccurate medical information existing on many sites is a legitimate concern, the reality is that social media is here to stay. Therefore, it has been recommended by many healthcare organizations that more medical professionals and organizations need to be actively involved in social media to provide accurate medical information that is easy for consumers to access.
The aging of Baby boomers has accelerated the need to identify alternative ways to communicate healthcare information and to provide services. Research has clearly shown that this generation is looking for and quite frankly demanding shared dialog with healthcare providers. The generation of passive consumers who never questioned a physician or healthcare organization is gone. This generation wants information on complementary and holistic healthcare and is active when seeking and sharing support. The use of social media by consumers and organizations has unlimited potential in meeting the needs of this generation.
How Social Media Influences Medical Decisions for Consumers of Healthcare
The utility of social media is the opportunity for a quick, two way exchange of health related information. This allows consumers to become more educated prior to seeking medical care and thereby creating a more efficient first doctor’s visit. An educated patient also is more likely to seek out treatment when symptoms first arise. In addition, they are less likely to use the emergency room for minor conditions and typically do not have as many unnecessary medical test performed thereby reducing healthcare costs.
In one study, 40% of those polled reported that information obtained from a social media site would influence whether they would seek out a second opinion, decide on a doctor, and what approaches they would take to diet and nutrition. Many are also using social sites to connect with other who have similar chronic conditions to share ideas and strategies for coping.
The Business of Healthcare and Social Media
Many healthcare organizations are turning to various social media sites to market, advertise, share patient stories and overall connect with the patients they serve. For example, the Mayo Clinic has reportedly over 100,000 followers on twitter. The mission statement for their center for social media is to “lead the social media revolution in healthcare, contributing to health and well- being for people everywhere.” Non-profit healthcare organizations are using social media sites to advance their mission, encourage philanthropy, advertise new services and promote brand awareness.
Moreover, providers of healthcare are keenly aware that provisions in the Affordable Care Act will assess payments on outcomes-based measurements therefore strategies for collaborative care must be implemented. Social media can provide a venue for relationship building with healthcare providers (physicians, nurses, etc) and offer an easy mechanism for collaborating and strategic planning with other organizations to coordinate care and improve outcomes.
As a marketing tool, social media makes brand awareness and consumer loyalty easier to obtain. Success stories of patients, development of new procedures and upcoming events can all be shared on social media sites. The fact that these sites are in real time, easy to access and have large membership numbers makes them powerful marketing tools for healthcare organizations. Unfortunately, most have been slow and often reluctant to develop these tools. But it appears that consumers will continue to use these sites and ultimately will force the hand of healthcare. One of the predicted results will be a better educated patient who will force more transparency on issues of value, cost and outcomes by healthcare organizations. While initially this may be difficulty for the healthcare industry to adjust to the resulting net effect will be better performance for the organization and improved healthcare for the consumer. And that is something to tweet about.