Solidify your social media strategy--stat!

May 3, 2012

Patients most trust information on social media sites if it's written and reviewed by physicians. Read these insights on online engagement to make sure you're not missing an important chance to connect with patients.

Your patients may be relying more heavily on community social media sites than your social media efforts for health information. A new study suggests even though patients believe that information written and reviewed by physicians is more credible, they perceive a lack of sufficient doctor-vetted sources of information.

Half of all adults used social networking sites in 2011-up from only 5% in 2005-but only one-third of these people used them for health-related matters, according to the according to the PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC)’s Health Research Institute.

The new study, “Social media ‘likes’ healthcare” shows that although eight out of 10 healthcare companies have a presence on social media, community sites attracted 24 times more traffic from consumers.

The time has come,r healthcare entities to embrace social media and find better ways to serve patients in that arena.

A study conducted by Harris Interactive for the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) indicates that more than half of adults who are caregivers for adult family members use the Internet as a resource for answers to health-related questions. General Internet searches lead the trend, followed by visits to healthcare Web sites. Activity on message boards, blogs, and social media sites, however, made up 20% of caregivers’ online activity.

More than half of the responding caregivers reported in the study that they believe that no one online resource for credible health information exists, however. They cited finding information that is easy to understand, and knowing that the information is scientifically accurate and written and reviewed by physicians, as the most important criteria for weighing the data they find online.

Findings of the PwC report back up this assessment; 61% of responding consumers said that they are more likely to trust information posted by providers. Also, more than 40% said they would share information with providers. Conversely, only 37% reported they would trust information from a drug company, and only 28% said they would share information with drug companies.

A third of consumers added that they would feel comfortable having their social media conversations monitored if it meant providers could help them identify ways to improve their healthcare, according to the PwC study. Another 45% of consumers said that the health information they found on social media sites would affect their decision to seek a second medical opinion, and 40% said that online information affects the way they approach diet and exercise or deal with a chronic condition.

Social media offers a new connection between providers and consumers, the study notes, and “helps satisfy a patient’s desire for self-service and access to information at multiple touchpoints.”

The PwC study also touches on how an increased social media presence could positively affect you and your colleagues in primary care, as well as considerations you can make when developing a social media strategy.

Using Mercy Health System-a 28-hospital system in the Midwest-as an example, PwC notes that word-of-mouth referrals are made easy through social media. Mercy is working on an application that will allow people to “share” their doctors on Facebook, resulting in a physician’s profile displaying on an individual’s Facebook page.

“Once our physicians agree to have their Mercy profile shared, they don’t need to do anything else,” Brad Herrick, director of digital marketing for Mercy, says in the report. “This allows them to be somewhat social media-savvy even if they don’t have their own professional Facebook page.”

Social media also allow physicians to respond quickly to any negative experiences or problems patients may share online, according to the research. An employee within a doctor’s office could be charged with monitoring a social media account for concerns, problems, or complaints and addressing them immediately.

Additionally, PwC says, you could benefit from monitoring health data shared by patients on social media sites to help develop a complete view of your patients. The more information you have about a patient, the more you can help them, the study notes. This information could come in the form of a module within an electronic health record that receives and displays social data that are relevant to the patient, PwC suggests.

Although the benefit of a social media presence may not be immediately evident to you in terms of profits or revenue, the PwC study reveals that such efforts are often rewarded it terms of establishing transparency and trust with patients. The keys to success include listening, participating, and engaging in social media discussions while remaining mindful of privacy issues and setting clear guidelines and policies for online activity with employees, the study concludes.

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