Patients Turn to Facebook, Social Media for Health News

Published Online: Tuesday, July 10, 2012
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For health information and reviews, patients frequently turn to Facebook and other social media platforms, according to a survey conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers, Health Research Institute (HRI).

The survey of 1060 adults found that approximately one-third of participants use social media platforms for health matters, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and health-specific sites like Caring Bridge, Daily Strength, and Baby Center. In addition, those who use social media sites for health information gravitate toward community-oriented sites rather than industry-sponsored sites.

The insights gathered from social media could provide pathways to higher quality care, more loyal patients, and improved health outcomes, the report suggested.

YouTube and Facebook are the most commonly used social media channels for health-related information, the survey found. The authors noted an age gap as well, finding that participants aged 18 to 24 years are more likely to share health information via social media, engage in health activities, and trust health information found via social media. Approximately 45% of participants aged 45 to 65 years would be likely to share information through social media, whereas just over one-half of those participants would be likely to engage in social media.

The increased focus on social media and its relation to health has raised expectations, as more patients turn to social media sites to find resources on care, reviews of health plans and providers, and to connect with other patients, the report noted.

“As more people go online to interact with their banks and make purchases, they want to do this with their doctors, health plans, and condition and disease management as well. Social media has brought an expectation for a different kind of connection that already exists in their daily lives,” Laura Clapper, MD, chief medical officer of the online community OneRecovery, said in the report.

The influx of information leads patients to other health care options, HRI found. Forty percent of participants reported that the information on social media sites would affect disease management. Meanwhile, 34% of participants said information from social media would affect their decisions to take a certain medication.

In addition, social media can help health care providers create a more complete patient profile, while also allowing providers to modify behavior and find out which strategies work best for individual patients, the report suggests.

Although many health care organizations began listening to opinions voiced via social media, the HRI report noted that the sentiments have not integrated the data into business models yet. The prospect, however, does raise concerns about privacy protection and information ownership.

The report noted that one third of participants in its survey were willing to have social media conversations monitored in exchange for positive outcomes, such as better care coordination or improved health.

“If you want to connect with people and be part of their community, you need to go where the community is. You need to be connecting before you are actually needed,” Ed Bennett, who oversees social media efforts at the University of Maryland Medical Center, said in the report.


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