As consumers, we use social media to learn about businesses and engage with them, building relationships over time. As patients, we are beginning to realize we can do the same with healthcare providers. Doctors, medical practices, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, insurers and others are now actively building their social presence to connect with patients and partners to improve the healthcare experience.
Benefits and Examples
On Facebook, medical practices are engaging directly with their customers in one-to-one and one-to-many conversations to keep them abreast of individual and public health needs. On YouTube, surgeons and medical device manufacturers are demonstrating the benefits of new surgeries, technologies and treatments. On smartphone applications, patients are receiving on-demand healthcare advice and support.
On review platforms, patients are raising the level of care by rewarding providers who meet their needs — and calling attention to areas of need so providers can take steps to better accommodate patients. On multiple platforms, researchers have been using social media to mine data and track and predict influenza outbreaks.
Through these platforms, patients become better educated consumers of healthcare, and smarter consumers make better choices. Medical providers also become more knowledgeable through a stronger, more connected network of collaborating experts.
The system as a whole benefits from greater transparency about patient outcomes, cost and value, as well as improved trust through more positive experiences. These are just a few examples of how social platforms are impacting healthcare today, and the applications will only continue to proliferate as both providers and patients uncover more benefits.
Best Practices in Social Engagement
Eighty-eight percent of doctors use social media to research medical devices, pharmaceuticals and biotechnologies, and 60 percent say it improves the quality of patient care. Here are just a few examples of how healthcare providers and practices incorporate social platforms into their marketing plans and treatment protocols:
- Broadcasting local health information, such as outbreaks of a disease in a city.
- Publishing medical research on issues pertinent to patients.
- Providing patients with quick answers to simple questions online, thereby reducing unnecessary and expensive in-person visits.
- Directing consumers to patient portals for up-to-date information.
- Offering healthcare advice and information on disease prevention.
- Enabling people with certain health conditions to share stories and provide a community and support.
Caveats for Social Engagement
Sixty percent of social media users are more likely to trust social media postings by doctors over any other group of posters. Unfortunately, their trust can extend to sources that do not merit it, or to believing they can interpret information without the proper qualifications to do so. Self-diagnosis and false alarms are a particular area of concern, especially given the amount of preventive medical testing that is routinely done today.
An unusually high PSA test score for a male in his 40s, for example, could lead to the patient believing he has prostate cancer, long before a urologist concludes the condition is just an infection that can be treated with antibiotics.
The sharing of misinformation between patients is another problem that could lead to unnecessary stress or poor healthcare decisions.
There are also ethical and privacy concerns about the dissemination of patient information through social media channels. For instance, what a patient reveals to a doctor through Facebook could be discovered and used by an insurer to raise premiums.
While these are serious concerns, the potential for positive outcomes by deliberately adapting thoughtful applications for social media in healthcare appears to far outweigh any potential negative impacts.