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Survey: Consumers More Apt to Use Social Media for Healthcare Purposes

Social media is changing the nature of healthcare interaction, and health organizations that ignore this virtual environment may be missing opportunities to engage consumers, according to a new report by the Health Research Institute (HRI) at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) US entitled, "Social media likes healthcare: From marketing to social business." The report found that social media activity by hospitals, health insurers, and pharmaceutical companies is miniscule compared to the activity on community sites. While eight in 10 healthcare companies (as tracked by HRI during a sample one-week period) had a presence on various social media sites, community sites had 24 times more social media activity than corporate sites. The finding holds significant implications for businesses looking to capitalize on social media opportunities.

"The power of social media for health organizations is in listening and engaging with consumers on their terms. Social media has created a new customer service access point where consumers expect an immediate response," says Kelly Barnes, US Health Industries leader for PwC. "Health organizations have an opportunity to use social media as a way to better listen, participate in discussions, and engage with consumers in ways that extend their interaction beyond a clinical encounter. Savvy adopters are viewing social media as a business strategy, not just a marketing tool."

PwC's report includes findings from a recent HRI social media survey of more than 1,000 US consumers and 124 members of the eHealth Initiative (eHI), a national association of industry organizations focusing on health information and technology. HRI also interviewed more than 30 industry executives and tracked the social media activity of a number of hospitals, insurers, drug manufacturers, and online patient communities to create a Week-in-the-life of Social Health snapshot.

The consumer survey found the following:

• One-third of consumers now use social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and online forums for health-related matters, including seeking medical information, tracking and sharing symptoms, and broadcasting how they feel about doctors, drugs, treatments, medical devices, and health plans.

• Four in 10 consumers say they have used social media to find health-related consumer reviews (e.g. of treatments or physicians); one in three have sought information related to other patients' experiences with their disease; one in four have posted about their health experience; and one in five have joined a health forum or community.

• When asked how information found through social media would affect their health decisions, 45% of consumers said it would affect their decision to get a second opinion; 41% said it would affect their choice of a specific doctor, hospital, or medical facility; 34% said it would affect their decision about taking a certain medication; and 32% said it would affect their choice of a health insurance plan.

• While 72% of consumers said they would appreciate assistance in scheduling doctor appointments through social media channels, nearly one-half said they would expect a response within a few hours.

• As is the case more broadly, young adults are leading the social media healthcare charge. More than 80% of individuals between the ages of 18 and 24 said they were likely to share health information through social media channels and nearly 90% said they would trust information they found there. By comparison, less than one-half (45%) of individuals between the ages of 45 and 64 said they were likely to share health information via social media.

Evolution from Social Media to Social Business Strategy

While some health businesses have started listening and participating in the social media space, they have not fully connected it to business strategy.

The HRI report found that organizations that are strategic about their use of social sites are beginning to differentiate between social media and social business. Social media is the external-facing component that gives and receives customer input. Social business is where core internal operations, such as customer service, data analytics, and product development could use social data. Additionally, patient-reported data on social networks could offer new insights on behavior and lifestyle to help inform care plans and improve the quality of life for patients with chronic conditions.

HRI's survey of eHI members found the following:

• Eighty-two percent said their organization's social media efforts are managed by marketing/communications. Few organizations said their IT departments and digital teams owned social media strategies.

• One-half said they are concerned about how to integrate social media data into business strategy and processes.

PwC says that hospitals, insurers, and pharmaceutical manufacturers can benefit from the interactive nature of social media. Insights from social media offer instant feedback on products or services along with new ideas for innovation that could lead to higher-quality care, more loyal customers, efficiency, and even revenue growth.

"Social media is another source of business intelligence that provides information at the aggregate level, not only about what consumers 'like,' but what they need, how they behave and when their experiences demand an immediate response," says Daniel Garrett, US HIT leader for PwC. "Health organizations can engage IT to integrate social data intelligence with existing systems and processes, yet most are still struggling with how to manage the data from their own clinical systems."

Source: PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP