PwC: Hospitals should connect social media to business strategy

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Social media is changing the nature of healthcare interaction, and health organizations that ignore this virtual environment may be missing opportunities to engage consumers, according to a new report by the Health Research Institute (HRI) at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) U.S.

“One-third of consumers now use social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and online forums for health-related matters, including seeking medical information, tracking and sharing symptoms and broadcasting how they feel about doctors, drugs, treatments, medical devices and health plans," the report found. In addition, four in 10 consumers said they have used social media to find health-related consumer reviews; one in three have sought information related to other patients’ experiences with their disease; one in four have "posted" about their health experience; and one in five have joined a health forum or community.

The New York City-headquartered PwC’s Health Research Institute commissioned a nationwide online survey of 1,060 U.S. adults in February 2011 and surveyed 124 health industry executives among the membership of the eHealth Initiative (eHI), a Washington, D.C.-based healthcare organization. HRI also conducted more than 30 interviews with executives and thought leaders and tracked the social media activity of a number of insurers, providers, drug manufacturers and online patient communities.

Social media activity by hospitals, health insurers and pharmaceutical companies is miniscule compared to the activity on community sites, the report noted. While eight in 10 healthcare companies (as tracked by HRI during a sample one-week period) had a presence on various social media sites, community sites had 24 times more social media activity than corporate sites.

When asked how information found through social media would affect their health decisions, 45 percent of consumers said it would affect their decision to get a second opinion; 41 percent said it would affect their choice of a specific doctor, hospital or medical facility; 34 percent said it would affect 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 report stated.

Yet, consumer use seems to be a young man’s game in terms of adoption and trust of information collected through social media, according to the report. More than 80 percent of individuals between the ages of 18 and 24 said they were likely to share health information through social media channels and nearly 90 percent said they would trust information they found there. By comparison, 45 percent of individuals between the ages of 45 and 64 said they were likely to share health information via social media.

While some health businesses have started listening and participating in the social media space, they have not fully connected it to business strategy. The HRI report 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. In addition, 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.

HRI’s survey of eHI members found:

  • Eighty-two percent said their organization’s social media efforts are managed by marketing/communications. Few organizations said their IT departments and digital teams owned social media strategies.
  • One-half said they are concerned about how to integrate social media data into business strategy and processes.

PwC concluded 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.”