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Social Media Changing Health Care Consumer Interaction

| BY Donald Liebenson

In an economy whose prognosis is far from certain, health care concerns are on the rise, and people are logging on to social media sites to consult and commiserate, according to a new PwC report for the Health Research Institute.

One-third of consumers are using sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and online forums to find health-related information, track symptoms, and share how they feel about doctors, drugs, treatments, and health plans, the report found.

A series of first quarter wealth level studies conducted by Millionaire Corner finds increased concern over personal health issues, especially in households with a net worth between $100,000 and $1 million (not including primary residence). Sixty-four percent of those respondents—up from 59 percent in 2011, said they are concerned about their own health, while 67 percent said they are worried about the health of their spouse.

These percentages are echoed in wealthier households, where 58 percent of Millionaires are concerned about their own health, up from 53 percent last year. Sixty-two percent—basically unchanged from 2011—are concerned about their spouse’s health.

Households with a net worth between $5 million and $24.9 million are most concerned about the health of their spouse (65 percent, up from 59 percent last year), while 60 percent said their own health is a personal concern. This is up four percentage points from last year.

HRI surveyed more than 1,000 U.S. consumers, 124 members of the eHealth Initiative (eHI), a national association of industry organizations focusing on health information and technology, and more than 30 industry executives. The survey tracks the social media activity of a number of hospitals, insurers, drug manufacturers and online patient communities.

Almost half (41 percent) of consumers said social media tools influence their choice of a specific hospital, medical facility or doctor, while 45 percent said it would affect their decision to get a second opinion. Just over one-third (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.

Nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of consumers said they would they would appreciate assistance in scheduling doctor appointments through social media channels, while nearly half said they would expect a response within a few hours.

Social media affords health organizations an opportunity “to better listen, participate in discussions and engage with consumers in ways that extend their interaction beyond a clinical encounter, " Kelley Barnes, U.S. health industries leader at PwC, noted in a press release.

The report finds 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.”

For example, over the course of one week tracked for the survey, a provider’s quiz about Vitamin D garnered 35 “likes”, 3 shares, and 36 comments. A pharma manufacturer alerted members about a product recall, which resulted in 12 likes and 47 shares.

But the health care industry has not fully embraced social media as a customer engagement tool and has some catching up to do. Community sites tracked during the same period had 24 times more social media activity than corporate sites. One patient community cited in the report posted a question about delivering a baby and received 61 likes and 766 comments.


About the Author

Donald Liebenson

Donald Liebenson writes news and features for Millionaire Corner. He has been published in the Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Los Angeles Times, Fiscal Times, Entertainment Weekly, Huffington Post, and other outlets. He has also served as a marketing writer for Chicago-based Questar Entertainment and distributor Baker & Taylor.  

A graduate of the University of Southern California, he is married with a college-age son. He also writes extensively about entertainment.