Social Media Checkup: Healthcare Industry Growing Stronger

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Guest post by Adam Roumm

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It’s understandable why the healthcare industry has lagged behind in social media adoption. Healthcare organizations operate under an intense regulatory microscope. Executives are trained to resist sharing information with the public, unless they are forced to do so during a crisis. But, times are changing for three reasons:

  1. Regulators are issuing social media guidance
  2. Customers are pushing healthcare organizations to communicate via social media
  3. The power of peer-to-peer information sharing to improve patient care is a strong incentive for healthcare organizations to catch up with the social media trend.

PwC’s 6th Annual Digital IQ Survey, a global survey that was issued to business and IT executives, revealed that 29% of health industry respondents believe that social media for external communication, collaboration, and commerce is currently of the highest strategic importance to their organization. In the following paragraphs, I break the results down by healthcare segments and address what they mean for the future of the healthcare industry.

Pharma Companies Use Social Media to Cultivate Customers

In late June, the Federal Drug Administration issued two long awaited social media draft guidance documents. The first guidance provides recommendations on how to appropriately share product information on platforms that have specific length limits, such as Twitter’s 140-character maximum. The second guidance tells manufacturers how to correct misinformation on third-party sites such as overstatements of a drug’s benefit on a Wikipedia page.

Now that the FDA guidelines for social media usage are starting to shape-up, it is expected that medical device and pharma companies will begin to more actively use this platform to influence, educate, and empower consumers. The 6th Annual Digital IQ Survey revealed that 50% of pharmaceutical and life science company respondents already invest in social media. Pharma is allowing patients to gain access to experimental treatments from drug makers and the FDA, recruiting for clinical trials, and collecting information on more drug adverse events and safety data.

Complaining Consumers Inspire Payers to Listen Online

Long waits and difficulty navigating through traditional customer service channels are driving consumers to reach out to their health insurers via social media. The 6th Annual Digital IQ Survey indicates that in addition to Twitter, Facebook is expected to have a big impact on payer business in the next few years. 30% of payer executives responded that in the next three years they expect Facebook to be the social media platform responsible for having the biggest impact on employee experience, employee productivity, customer experience, and customer retention. Many of the country’s biggest insurers have designated Twitter feeds that focus on marketing and sharing health related news.

Healthcare Providers are Pushing Forward with Peer to Peer

A survey from QuantiaMD revealed that over 65% of physicians utilize social media for professional purposes. According to the 6th Annual Digital IQ Survey, online physician communities, online patient communities, or sites that facilitate patient-physician interaction generate the most interest in the provider space. In addition, 47% of provider executives report investing in social media for internal and external communication and collaboration.

Professional physician communities can enable physicians to learn from experts and their peers. Additionally, many clinicians believe the ability to interact with patients online will improve access to care, quality of care, and compliance. The partnership between social media and medicine can be seen in Facebook’s acquisition of fitness tracking company ProtoGeo. Using social media and mobile device sensors to collect patient health data has the potential to enable providers and patients to improve their disease and care management.

Health researchers are a group to watch for increased adoption. A recent study published in Health Affairs revealed that only 14 percent of health policy researchers report using Twitter and approximately 20 percent use blogs and Facebook to communicate their research findings. Social media channels could present a major opportunity for connecting with both policy makers and the general public.

Mitigating Risk in the Social Media Arena

Despite all the opportunities social media presents, mitigating risk is essential to success. FDA guidelines attempt to address the issue as well as guidelines for the Use of Social Media in Medical Practice adopted by the Federation of State Medical Boards. These guidelines aim to ensure that healthcare organizations apply professional and ethical standards in their interactions with patients; in terms of overstating or understanding risks and benefits, privacy/confidentiality, disclosure, etc.

Once these guidelines and standards are enforceable and the risks and concerns are mitigated, social media is poised to become a potent tool for communication, collaboration, and commerce within the healthcare industry.

Additional information on social media in the healthcare industry can be found in a report by PwC’s Health Research Institute called Social Media “Likes” Healthcare: From Marketing to Social Business.

Steven Zaloga, James Selden and George Mendoza contributed to this post.

Image shared by NEC-Medical-137.

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