Consumers Are Ahead of Health Care Providers in Adopting Social Media

By Brian T. Horowitz  |  Posted 2012-04-18

Consumers Are Ahead of Health Care Providers in Adopting Social Media

Patients may be a step ahead of their local hospitals in adopting social media tools, a new report by consulting firm PwC suggests.

For its report "Social Media 'Likes' Healthcare: From Marketing to Social Business," released April 17, the Health Research Institute at PwC interviewed 1,060 U.S. consumers. The consulting firm found that four in 10 consumers use social media to find reviews of doctors and treatments and one in four posts material about their experience using social tools.

On the provider side PwC interviewed 124 members of nonprofit health IT association eHealth Initiative (eHI) and 30 health care IT executives from pharmaceutical, biotech, insurance, provider and other health organizations.

Health organizations, such as hospitals, health insurers and pharmaceutical companies, are behind consumer community sites in adopting social media tools, PwC reported. Community sites had 24 times more social media activity than health care organizations, according to the report.

Community sites include consumer-driven tools, such as the pregnancy resource Baby Center and journaling site CaringBridge, where patients share how they're dealing with life-threatening illnesses. Other community sites include support group resource Daily Strength, PatientsLikeMe and WebMD.

Meanwhile, one in three consumers used social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and online forums to share information about symptoms as well as their opinions on doctors, medication, treatments, medical devices and health insurance.

Of consumers using social media for health care content, younger users were more interested in using the tools. More than 80 percent of people ages 18 and 24 were "likely" to use social media to share information about their health, while less than 45 percent of individuals between ages 45 and 64 reported that they would share information about their health through social media.

Despite the larger numbers for younger people, social media has a presence in health care across multiple age ranges. "This is not just the young person's fad that's being adopted across the population," Robin Settle, director of PwC's health information technology practice, told eWEEK.

In addition, 45 percent of respondents believed that information they received through social media could influence whether they pursue a second opinion or not.

Organizations Without a Social Media Strategy Could Be at a Disadvantage

In a recent white paper "Should Healthcare Organizations Use Social Media?" IT integrator and cloud service provider CSC calls on health care organizations to adopt a more formal social media strategy.

According to PwC, organizations that don't adopt a social media strategy could have a competitive disadvantage in finding new patients.

"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," Daniel Garrett, U.S. health information technology leader at PwC, said in a statement. "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."

Meanwhile, health organizations see social media as separate from a social business strategy, according to PwC. Half of eHI members surveyed had concerns about how to integrate social media into a successful business strategy.

Businesses in health care are behind those in retail and hospitality in adopting social media tools, PwC reported.

Despite concerns about violating Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) privacy rules, some physicians are loosening up and adopting social media as they become more comfortable with PCs and adopt electronic health records (EHRs), said Settle.

Many EHR platforms have built-in messaging portals, Settle noted.

In fact, Practice Fusion announced on April 18 that it has added a messaging component to its EHR application to allow physicians to communicate with each other and boost continuity of care.

"Our messaging feature makes communication between providers as easy as sending a Facebook message to a friend€”and this could mean the difference between life and death for a patient," Practice Fusion CEO Ryan Howard said in a statement.

When health care companies get more up-to-speed with social tools, they'll need to monitor them often to meet patient expectations. More than 75 percent of consumers surveyed expect providers to respond to patient appointment inquiries through social media within a day, according to PwC.


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