PwC report shows importance of social media to healthcare

Consumers say social media influences hospital choice

NEW YORK – One-third of consumers use sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and online forums to find health-related information, track symptoms and broadcast their thoughts about doctors, drugs, treatments, medical devices and health plans says a recent report by the Health Research Institute (HRI) at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) US.

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.

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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.

“The social media aspect is a really good way for healthcare organizations to engage with consumers in a much more meaningful way,” said Vaughn Kauffman, principal with PwC Health Industries. “People tend to trust other people who are in similar situations (more often than) the expert. Social media creates a real-time, very information-rich discussion with people. It’s about building a dialogue.”

“I think social media is critically important for hospitals to create a two-way discussion,” said Josh Goldstein, director of social media for Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals in Philadelphia. “Social media is great way to get the word out about what you’re doing but also get input from your stakeholders internally and externally about what they’re interested in as far as what’s going on and what we should be involved in.”

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.

“I think the use of social media is extremely important and really the question isn’t ‘should we take it seriously?’ Now it’s ‘what should we do about it and how much should we invest?’” said Ed Bennett, director of web strategy at the University of Maryland Medical System in Baltimore. “Most hospitals are not doing enough. I think we’ll start seeing hospitals doing more because of what people want to see from their organization. I think this is a positive opportunity for us to have more conversations with patients.”

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.

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.