Consumers Are Ahead of Health Care Providers in Adopting Social Media

Consumers are using social media tools more actively than health care organizations to communicate about health issues, according to a new report by PwC.

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.