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U.S. consumers turn to Facebook, Twitter for healthcare answers

Information found on social networks often leads to second opinions, survey shows

April 17, 2012 05:33 AM ET

Computerworld - A third of U.S. consumers now use social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter to seek medical information and track and share symptoms. They're also using the sites to vent about doctors, drugs, treatments, medical devices and health plans.

The survey of 1,040 U.S. consumers was put together by consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and includes data from a separate survey of healthcare and pharmaceutical executives on how social media is used in their business strategies.

Not unexpectedly, young adults rely on social networks for healthcare information far more than older Americans. The survey found that more than 80% of those between the ages of 18 and 24 said they're likely to share health information through social media channels -- and nearly 90% said they would trust information found there.

By comparison, less than half (45%) of those surveyed between the ages of 45 and 64 said they're likely to share health information via social media.

The PwC report showed that four in 10 consumers have used social media to find health-related consumer reviews of treatments or doctors; one in three have sought information related to other patients' experiences with their disease; and one in four have posted comments about their health experience.

"The power of social media for health organizations is in listening and engaging with consumers on their terms," Kelly Barnes, U.S. Health Industries leader at PwC, said in a statement. "Social media has created a new customer service access point where consumers expect an immediate response."

Seventy-two percent of those surveyed said they would use social networks for scheduling doctor visits and nearly half said they would expect a response within a few hours after doing so.

When asked whether information on social networks would affect their health decisions, 45% said it would play in role in whether to get a second opinion; 41% said it would affect their choice of a specific doctor, hospital or medical facility; and 34% said it would affect any decision to take a certain medication.

PwC's report found that consumer activity on social media sites dwarfs that of healthcare organizations such as hospitals, insurance and pharmaceutical companies. Social media, the report notes, is changing the nature of healthcare interaction, and "health organizations that ignore this virtual environment may be missing opportunities to engage consumers," Barnes said.

Community sites that allow people to weigh in on various medical and healthcare issues had 24 times more social media activity than corporate sites, according to PwC. That shows how much room to grow corporate sites have.

"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," Barnes said. "Savvy adopters are viewing social media as a business strategy, not just a marketing tool."



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