Social media and the rise of the informed patient

Social media is fundamentally changing the healthcare industry. From Facebook pages and Twitter profiles to consultant blogs, online forums and YouTube channels, establishing a social media presence is rapidly becoming a necessity for doctors, hospitals and healthcare institutions to connect with their patients and strengthen patient-doctor relations. Essentially, the healthcare industry is using social media communities to engage and educate patients more effectively. Despite the ever-present concern of patient privacy, a new breed of physicians uses Twitter to track disease trends and healthcare hashtags, identify medical problems and communicate directly with patients. Social media makes it easier for patients to connect with medical professionals and to further engage in a dialogue outside the examination room.

The rise of the informed patient

Patients now have access to vast amounts of information online and have a need to seek the opinions of others (both known and unknown) as well as sharing their own, on social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Patient Communities grow particularly quickly on Twitter as a place for support, sharing advice and spreading news of the latest breakthroughs in medical advances.  Though it might be surprising that many patients choose such a public space as a means of communication, it is clear that the attraction for people lies in Twitter’s transparency.  People searching for others with the same condition, treatment or healthcare experiences are able to connect more organically. And the innate human desire to be part of a community is nurtured by communities found on social media platforms. People are willing to reach out and show support – even to strangers.

Healthcare information has become easier to find. Hashtags help categorise conversations within social media, marking them by keywords or acronyms specific to a certain topic. This makes it easier to create and find specific communities, whether it’s #medical, #HCSM (healthcare social media), #Diabetes, or #BreastCancer. Twitter conversations are ways for people around the globe to come together to discuss specific topics, in real time.

A new dynamic has been created between healthcare provider and patient. With the help of the internet and Patient Communities on social media platforms, patients are also taking ownership of their healthcare decisions by empowering themselves with knowledge, researching treatment options and case studies before they meet their doctor. There are social networks and blogs dedicated entirely to specific diseases and conditions, giving up-to-date treatment options and sharing experiences of living with various conditions.  Instead of the doctor simply telling the patient about treatment options, a new dialogue has been opened up between educated patients and healthcare professionals.

Influencing the conversation

While social media is helpful for patients to make educated healthcare decisions, it is also helpful for healthcare professionals to monitor activity and conversations, to gain an insight into the services that interest people. For example, trends on Twitter might indicate medical needs in the community. Social media can also help doctors to gauge how satisfied patients are with their level of care and as a result, can help improve customer service. Unlike customer service issues brought to a practice’s attention in a survey, complaints made on social media can be addressed — and often remedied — immediately, because there is an outlet for a dialogue. Even though specific details should be kept to conversations offline, practices can respond in public with an apology and offer to correct the situation so that others can see action being taken.

Patient privacy is always a concern when it comes to social media and the prospect of patients sharing health-related information in public. Yet, a recent survey by the PwC Health Research Institute found that a third of consumers would be willing to have their conversations monitored if it meant improved care coordination or clinical quality. In today’s digital age, patients are willing to sacrifice total anonymity to be more informed with their healthcare decisions and for better service from healthcare providers.

Author profile: Charlie Grieve

With over 20 years’ experience planning, developing and producing online video and digital media, Charlie has been at the forefront of creating rich media experiences for a wide range of businesses and brands.

He has founded and grown digital media agencies, and he is founder and CEO of award-winning creative digital and video agency Brandcast Media.

Sister company Brandcast Health is a leading digital healthcare and social media agency focused on the delivery of online, mobile and interactive communications for professional and consumer healthcare audiences in the pharmaceutical, medical technology and hospitals/care sector. Brandcast Health has a particular strength in cancer communications and both patient and professional education.


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Social media and the rise of the informed patient



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