Organ Donation and 5 More Reasons Healthcare Should Follow Consumers to Social Media

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012
This post was written by Patricia Donovan

Now that Facebook users can post their organ donor status as easily as photos of last night’s dinner, it might be time for healthcare to “like” social media a little more.

Starting today, Facebook users can indicate in their timeline that they’re an organ donor. They can also share stories about their decision to become a donor and register for state and national organ donor registries.

Facebook’s move reflects the increasing integration of social media and health behaviors. Consumers, especially 18- to 24-year-olds, are heavily invested in social media use for health-related matters — for education, provider and treatment reviews, physician interactions, and decision-making, according to new research by the Health Research Institute (HRI) at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

Healthcare organizations that ignore these trends may miss a chance to engage and do business with these consumers, say authors of the new report, 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 such as patientslikeme&#174, where 146,438 members (today’s count at 1:56 pm EDT) share thoughts on more than 1,000 medical conditions.

For example, the report notes that 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.

For the uninitiated, the idea of social media can be intimidating. There are also legitimate concerns related to patient confidentiality and privacy. To this end, the General Medical Council (GMC) has drafted guidance for doctors on managing the risks of using social media Web sites such as Twitter and Facebook to connect with patients. Rule number 1: maintain a professional boundary between doctor and patient.

Still not convinced? If Facebook’s organ donation tool doesn’t motivate, here are five more trends in health-related use of social media identified in the HRI research:

  • 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 percent of consumers said it would affect their decision to get a second opinion; 41 percent said it would affect their choice of a specific doctor, hospital or medical facility; 34 percent said it would affect their decision about taking a certain medication; and 32 percent said it would affect their choice of a health insurance plan.

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

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