The Evolving Role of Social Media in Healthcare

shutterstock-141856039Healthcare is a breeding ground for disruption. Countless processes from patient relations to management of health records can be augmented. Surgeons wearing Google Glass, patients with NFC embedded identification bands, and nurses equipped with iPads are already a reality.

Yet one area of innovation may stem from an unlikely source. Social media for healthcare can contribute to increased communication, provider efficiency, treatment efficacy and organizational transparency.

A significant amount of doctors, patients, family members, and specialists use social media to bring about more impactful care and treatment. PwC released a report on social and healthcare detailing how, “a third of consumers surveyed use social to find and share information about medical treatments, doctors, and health plans.”

Given the impact of social for consumers, healthcare is set to experience similar disruption to that of mobile in the retail space. In the spirit of WebMD and existing health sites, social media is transforming how doctors and patients operate and interact with each other.

Despite issues related to misinformation, security concerns, and confidentiality, social media and similar technologies can alter the healthcare experience for all parties involved.

Patients That Share Freely

Social media users are growing increasingly accustomed to sharing personal information online. Users comment on everything from a status update about their cold to a recent article on diabetes. Patients today are actively engaging online with other patients and family members regarding treatment, ailments, and prescriptions.

In certain cases, patients end up receiving basic advice from medical professionals that happen to be in their network. This phenomenon can be harnessed to an extensive level for gaining qualitative feedback about treatment and services. Services like Bazaarvoice are used to scan user generated content online to measure brand sentiment. The same tools can be used by providers.

Niche social networks have even been developed directly by patients and their families. Such websites focus on specific patient communities and diseases. PatientsLikeMe is a niche social network founded by the brothers of a man suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease.

The site allows family members and patients alike to access forums, reports, testimonials and other information. PatientsLikeMe utilizes data and content from their site to sell to clinics, drug manufacturers and healthcare organizations in the form of reports. As exhibited by PatientsLikeMe, patients are actively engaging with technology to empower themselves in unprecedented fashion.

Doctors Who Engage Proactively

Mashable reported that a quarter of hospitals have a social media presence. And 60 percent of doctors surveyed said social improves quality of care. With notoriety prior to an encounter, doctors can attract more patients while providing patients with a means to better assess healthcare professionals.

It takes relatively little time to set up a blog that integrates with social accounts. For larger practices, a content management system can empower members to post content to websites or blogs. Consistently publishing blogs and interesting articles serves as material to update Facebook and Twitter.

In addition, hosting Google Hangouts with past patients is another innovative yet economical way for doctors to use technology to connect with patients.

Through social media, doctors can contribute to a more transparent and patient-centric model of healthcare. And as policy progresses to catch up with technological innovation, social strategies in healthcare should become more widespread.

Doctors and hospitals that maintain a proactive social media presence, can capture and resolve patient issues to increase loyalty and satisfaction. Patients who have transparent access to information on providers could benefit from better health outcomes.

Communication, feedback, and superior service in healthcare can be significantly revamped through incorporation of a social strategy.

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