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Social media becomes a business intelligence strategy

According to a recent report by the Health Research Institute (HRI) at PwC U.S. regarding the use of social media in healthcare, one-third of consumers use sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and online forums to find health-related information, track symptoms, and broadcast how they feel about doctors, drugs, treatments, medical devices and health plans.

The PwC report, "Social media 'likes' healthcare: From marketing to social business," includes findings from a recent HRI social media survey of more than 1,000 U.S. consumers and 124 members of the eHealth Initiative (eHI), a national association of industry organizations focusing on health information and technology. HRI also interviewed more than 30 industry executives and tracked the social media activity of a number of hospitals, insurers, drug manufacturers and online patient communities.

[See also: PwC forecasts 8.5 percent increase in healthcare costs for employers in 2012]

Within the survey, 41 percent of consumers said social media tools influence their choice of a specific hospital, medical facility or doctor; 45 percent said it would affect their decision to get a second opinion; 34 percent said it would influence 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.

"The power of social media for health organizations is in listening and engaging with consumers on their terms. Social media has created a new customer service access point where consumers expect an immediate response," said Kelly Barnes, U.S. health industries leader at PwC, in a press release. "Health organizations have an opportunity to use social media as a way to better listen, participate in discussions and engage with consumers in ways that extend their interaction beyond a clinical encounter. Savvy adopters are viewing social media as a business strategy, not just a marketing tool."

According to the report, while some health businesses have started listening and participating in the social media space, they have not fully connected it to business strategy. PwC found that organizations that are strategic about their use of social sites are beginning to differentiate between social media and social business. Social media is the external-facing component that gives and receives customer input. Social business is where core internal operations, such as customer service, data analytics and product development could use social data. Additionally, patient-reported data on social networks could offer new insights on behavior and lifestyle to help inform care plans and improve the quality of life for patients with chronic conditions.

[See also: Social media for hospitals: Without it, 'you don't exist']

PwC says that hospitals, insurers and pharmaceutical manufacturers can benefit from the interactive nature of social media. Insights from social media offer instant feedback on products or services along with new ideas for innovation that could lead to higher-quality care, more loyal customers, efficiency and even revenue growth.

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

A copy of the full PwC report is available at

Follow HFN Associate Editor on Twitter @kbrimmerhfn. 

[See also: PwC says doctors, hospitals must work together]