Consumer use of social media in healthcare

Social media is becoming a bigger part of the collection of health information, but it varies by health condition and treatment options how patients use social channels during their online search. The more serious the condition, the more time patients spend online researching with social media tools as part of the equation.

This is one of the findings of a recent qualitative research project designed and carried out by Rich Meyer, an experienced DTC marketer working in the pharma industry for over 10 years now. The study showed other interesting trends about how consumers are using social media for seeking healthcare information and how it influences their decisions as well.

Here are the key findings of the research:

  • Seeking health information online is often triggered by health concerns of a patient or family member. People usually do not search for health-related information proactively. The search is initiated after experiencing the symptoms.
  • There is not one online source that is the most popular when it comes to searching for health info. There is no ultimate source. People in older age groups usually start with search engines, and often mention being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of health-related information online. One of the main problems for internet users is complexity, the often feel frustrated when not finding answers to more simple questions.
  • While some people use social media sites during their search, they rarely trust the accuracy of posts. The main reason to go to social media sources is to read about others’ experiences with the same health concerns. This is trend is more dominant with more serious conditions.
  • People are concerned about personal and data privacy, so they are usually not comfortable posting their medical information on social media sites. This was even a bigger of a concern for older demographics.
  • Before making a healthcare-related decision, women usually do more research online and go to a lot more websites than men.
  • While physicians are still a very important source of medical information, the need for a more cooperative approach to healthcare is obvious. Participants stated that they would like to discuss different options with their doctors.
  • Another interesting and possibly worrying aspect of the study is that during focus groups participants didn’t mention pharma company websites as a health-related online source at all. This might be due to the fact that they questioned the trustworthiness of pharma companies all together.


There Is Still No Need To Be Concerned About The New Facebook Commenting Policy

In an earlier post I summarized my thoughts about Facebook’s plan to make companies allow comments on their fan pages. Pharma brands soon started shaking in fear of what is going to happen and painted a picture of a future Facebook mayhem. As I stated before the plans for changes are not surprising since the whole idea behind the social platform is to communicate, keep in touch and engage in conversation, it is not designed for one way content publishing.

But even with the changing rules, pharma brands should not worry for a series of reasons:

  • Admins will still be solely responsible for original content.
  • Branded pages for prescription drugs continue to have the option to disable comments.
  • Admins still have the right to delete inappropriate comments if they feel the need for such action.

And now, according to the analysis of LiveWorld, a moderation and community programming agency there is proof to convince pharma brands that there is no need to panic. The study – based on 5 different pharma Facebook pages – shows that only a small fraction of online user activities could be labeled as adverse events. Critical issues were not significant on the pages observed by LiveWorld, only 2 percent of posts or comments included content that could have been a reason for concern.

Bigger brands are usually more worried due to a soon-to-be increased work load when the online actions of thousands  need to be monitored constantly. Well the good news is that according to the findings there is no relationship between the size of an online fan base, number of posts and adverse events. You could have a busy, very active Facebook page and the chances of an adverse event would be the same. The bad news is (assuming that some brands consider this a bad thing) you can’t stop monitoring your page entirely. It is still your responsibility to report that 2 percent of adverse events. But this small rate of comments and posts is manageable to be filtered, deleted or reported. In return you gain a lively, active page that could be a great opportunity for your costumers to give feedback and communicate with you.

(Source: LiveWorld)

Pfizer Facebook Page Gets Hacked: Empty PR Lines Are Not Enough

Pfizer made headlines with its Facebook Page hacked by the notorious Script Kiddies. The response from the company and from other social media experts seemed interesting to me. First of all, Pfizer remained highly positive about using Facebook and other social outlets. Second of all, all comments from the company were very vague.

A spokesperson for the company stated: “The good news is that no confidential information related to individuals or the company were breached, but I need to make it very clear that we are committed to using social media channels to communicate and we’ll take this as a learning experience.” I find myself wondering how their comments would change in case of a private data breach.

While I applaud Pfizer for its commitment to social media, customers of the company will need more than optimistic lines about getting right back on Facebook. They need to have some kind of assurance, that their privacy won’t be harmed. And it is not enough to say, that the problem was on Facebook’s end. It is clear that Facebook has its security issues, but as a pharma company, you can’t really put all the responsibility on Facebook. That would only shows that you have no control over events like this.

So what could be the solution here?

  1. Publish your plan for social media safety, so your fans/followers know exactly what your are doing to protect their privacy. Be detailed and concrete.
  2. Monitor, monitor, monitor – so in case of a crisis like this, the damage could be minimal.
  3. Work closely with Facebook, let them know your concerns with privacy settings, ask for solutions.
  4. Set guidelines for your Facebook fans about using social media. Make sure your audience doesn’t use your Facebook page to publish private data about themselves. Instead create members only online communities and platforms where patients can share information without their privacy being in danger. Educate people about what Facebook is really for: to access information easily and communicate without compromising anyone’s privacy.

So this social media crisis can’t be only used for publishing good pr lines about how committed you are or how you want to prevent anything like this to happen to other companies. You can’t only use this opportunity to appear like the latest victim of hackers. You need to do more than call this a great opportunity to learn. You have to be really precise about what exactly you learned from it and how you are going to use that new knowledge to keep your Facebook page safe.

(Source: PharmaLive)

Introducing Social Media To Hospitals

Convincing hospital representatives to engage in social media can be a tough job. You have to brace yourself to meet numerous skeptical healthcare professionals who just don’t see the opportunity in using social sites. They probably look at you like someone, who’s bad news. Who brings them extra work on top of the million things they need to handle every day. So when you do try to talk them into trying social media, you better have some effective intellectual weapons to convince your audience.

A recent blog post used a very apt example on how you can introduce social media so your introduction leaves a lasting effect. Think about it as a scientific discovery that questions findings from the past. You have to prepare yourself to demolish the old beliefs that are built in the approach of healthcare professionals and that have been the core of the medical profession for decades. New ideas take time to become a part of a field with a tradition that dates back so far.

So the above mentioned post suggests the following:

  • Get to know the communication tools that have been used in the hospital before. You have to know the history of hospital communication to decide on the next step. The experience with different approaches could determine the right path for a hospital or health organisation.
  • Connect with every kind of healthcare professional who is responsible for outreach. These people know the audience, they are the ones who have to be convinced. Most likely they are going to be the key when it comes to engaging with patients.
  • Outline the use of social media in a simple way and use local data to prove its importance. Simplicity is always a plus, especially when it comes to technology. A lot of time the reason behind hesitance is the fear of not being able to deal with technology and online tools. Show easy to use applications to boost confidence within medical groups. It is also important to emphasize, that these applications and sites are already very popular around us.
  • Use respected sources. Especially in the medical field it is always helpful to lean on guidelines and opinions from sources that are already enjoy the respect of the professionals.
  • Social media is a rapidly changing field, don’t be scared of new data. Stay up to date, and be prepared to answer questions about social media. Articulate, that this is an exciting territory that is always evolving. Point out that this is more an advantage than a disadvantage.

These suggestions may seem obvious, but I feel it could help to think about them from time to time, so when it comes to convincing medical professionals to embrace social media, we have our reasons and resources ready.

(Source: Ragan’s Healthcare Communication News)

How Social Is Too Social?

In a recent blog post on Bryan Vartabedian, MD raises an interesting question: “How many places can you live?” These days chances are the biggest part of your online activity happens on social media sites. You check Facebook and click on the Youtube videos shared by your friends (or by random people you accidentally have on Facebook) and after finding the video extremely funny/interesting/inspirational you decide to post it on Twitter.

Let’s just say you also blog and you would like to keep up with the comments of readers of your posts. You also keep reading about Google+ so you decide to join to see what all the fuss is about. Before you know it you spend long hours sitting in front of the computer trying to find your way out of the great mess of information. Then when you finally build up enough courage to tear yourself apart from the computer to leave your house, you turn to your smartphone. And the whole circle starts again.

Is this really the purpose of social media? To create addicted people staring at a screen all day? I don’t think so. Using social sites should be beneficial on a daily basis not result in digital mess around you. The real quality of this era is being selective. To be able to decide what information to pay attention to and what to ignore. This way we could organize the fine chaos we see online every day. Social media and more and more mobile applications are supposed to help us filter information and find out easier what is relevant, new and deserves attention.

With so many social platforms you have to make choices. One doesn’t have to use all the applications and social platforms out there. It is better to use a few effectively than to get lost in the social sphere. Especially if there is a lot at stake. Let’s just say you are a physician actively using social media. For a healthcare professional social media is a lot more than a fun way to spend time in the evening. In this case social media is a great tool with countless possibilities to connect with fellow doctors, get informed and stay relevant in the rapidly changing medical field. But social media is also a potential source of danger – for privacy (yours and patients’) and for reputation.

The possibilities given by social media are too big to pass on them. But that fact doesn’t make the pitfalls go away. That is why everyone has to decide: how social is too social? A social media presence is too much if it can’t be monitored and controlled. You can’t keep your eyes on Facebook, Twitter, blogs and comments, Youtube, Google+ and different online communities all the time. There is only 24 hours in a day. If you want to use social media effectively to connect with people you want to connect with, to access useful information that you want to access and if during the process you would like to monitor and control your online presence, you have to be selective. And decide for yourself how social is too social.


What If There Were No Medical Case Studies?

A weird and very surreal idea came to me the other day reading a post on Shrink Rap about doctors writing about their medical experiences and patients. The article quotes another blogger arguing that there is no ethical way for doctors to write about their patients.

What if we agree with this idea? What if that was the consensus from the beginning? If it’s unethical to write about medical experiences, treatments and diseases, than how do we move forward? How do we learn about new conditions and possible treatments?

If writing about patients is unethical, than we have nothing to talk about. Because there is no medical profession, there is no health information. Would that mean we have to get rid of all the old medical books too that contain case studies? Would we have to censor medical journals as well?

I do agree that patient privacy comes first. I also agree that in the era of online health information there are certain new steps that have to be taken to provide complete data privacy. But why would it be beneficial for patients if doctors couldn’t learn from their cases? Why would it have to be a violation of privacy if a doctor writes a detailed essay about a rare condition? There are certain methods to make sure that the patient stays anonymus.

So before we throw out the idea and tradition of medical studies we should realize that privacy and learning from cases are not opposing ideas. There are ways to serve the patients without exposing too much.

(Source: Shrink Rap)

War In Medical Twitterverse

If you know your way around healthcare social media and follow medical tweets you have definitely heard about the disagreement between Dr. Bryan Vartabedian (@Doctor_V) and @mommy_doctor that evolved around a number of tweets lately.

To try to summarise what happened: @mommy_doctor posted some tweets about a patient having had a 36 hour priapism. Given the sensitive nature of the problem, the tweet generated some jokes and comments and clearly got a lot of attention from all @mommy_doctor’s followers.

After the thread received criticism from Dr. Vartabedian on the comments started rolling in. @Doctor_V called the twitter feed unprofessional and inappropriate. He also criticized @mommy_doctor for tweeting anonymously.

Surprisingly to me some people disagreed with Dr. Vartabedian and found it appropriate to tweet about such an event and do so without a face or name. They expressed their thoughts saying the twitter feed was funny and innocent. You could also see a lot of encouraging tweets sent to @mommy_doctor from her team of supporters.

So here is my take on the recent war in Twitterverse:

1. Having an anonymous account without a face or individuality is taking the easy way out. You can’t be held responsible for the content you share. You lose your credibility and you can’t be taken seriously as a medical professional.

2. Making fun of a patient is not alright whether you use his name or not. Clearly the feed was for grabbing the attention of followers. I highly doubt that a similar set of tweets would appear discussing a swollen ankle. There are numerous people trying to engage patients on social media platforms. The main reason they are having a hard time doing this is because patients are concerned about their privacy. Twitter feeds like the one posted by mommy_doctor don’t help convincing them that their personal data is in safe hands.

3. I’m not saying you can’t share your medical experiences on social platforms. (And for the record you can’t seriously state that @Doctor_V would be against sharing medical content. Have you seen his blog or Twitter profile lately?) But patient privacy has to come first. And respect for the patient has to come even before that. If you wouldn’t make fun of a patient in the examination room why would you do so on Twitter (“in front of” your 2 900 followers)?

Facebook Comments – Not For Healthcare Blogs?

On March 10th, Kevin Pho, M.D., creator of tweeted a question to his 31 000+ followers:

kevinmd Kevin Pho, M.D.
I’m considering switching to Facebook comments on, forcing people to use their real name to leave a comment. Thoughts?

When it comes to commenting on health related blogs, is it too much to ask readers to leave comments with their pictures and Facebook profiles showing? Is it helping to cut useless comments? Definitely. Is it keeping patients from commenting because of its revealing nature? Maybe.

Generally speaking it is a good idea for blogs to switch to Facebook comments. People tend to think twice before posting something when they have their names and pictures to go with the comment. Maybe it stops them from going on a rant about a celebrity, a blogger, a politician or a specific news piece. So moderating becomes easier, the quality of comments become higher. Not to mention the fact that people are already comfortable using Facebook, and this feature lets them comment without going through another registration process.

But should a healthcare blogger continue to provide the option for anonymous comments? Would Facebook comments stop patients to engage in a conversation about their illness and experience with different treatments? As long as the answer is maybe, switching to the new Facebook comment setting is a risk.

On one hand Facebook comments are very user-friendly because of the numerous reasons mentioned above. On the other hand it is hard enough to get patients involved in an online discussion as it is, expecting them to share their pictures when talking about health related issues might be too much to ask. Even on TechCrunch, the highly popular blog about technology startups, as a result of the switch to Facebook comments, the number of responses decreased significantly. Concerns arose that the new commenting system was working too well, preventing people from giving much-needed feedback. And it’s safe to assume, that posting about technology is not as personal as posting about one’s illness or treatment choice.