How social media can reform healthcare

This is an excerpt from a report I wrote for the Formation Strategies’ newsletter.

The internet has emerged as the most popular source for health information among American consumers.  According to The Pew Internet and American Life Project, 75 to 80 percent of Americans have used the internet to help with their health care decisions.  As of January 2008, the internet surpassed physicians as the leading source for health information, according to a survey conducted by iCrossing, a digital marketing research firm.

smallStLukeAs health-information seeking has become common among internet users, their participation in social media has exploded – and it’s no longer just teenagers and college students participating.  Forrester Research reported that three in four online adults use some form of social media.  In fact, 35 percent of adults have a profile on at least one social network.  Imc², a digital marketing agency, reported that 72 percent of adults, ages 45 to 54, say they use social technologies.  According to iStrategies, a Web analytics company, the 35-to-54 demographic now makes up the largest presence on Facebook – 28.2 percent of users.

The surge in social media is beginning to attract a flurry of health companies hoping to tap into new, innovative technologies that can improve their operating structures.  Online healthcare information technology now represents a $36.7 billion-per-year market, according to Q1 Productions, a healthcare conference and webinar production firm.  In the U.S. alone, more than 250 hospitals use social media; 160 hospitals have Twitter accounts; 131 hospitals have YouTube Channels; and 83 hospitals have Facebook pages. As existing technologies evolve and more technologies become available, companies are learning new and innovative ways of integrating these tools into a cohesive structure that can cut costs, improve communication channels and strengthen relationships with their consumers and patients.

But while a lot of health organizations have successfully embraced social media, most are still unsure about how to implement social strategies that balance business objectives with authentic engagement.  As the authors of “Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Media” point out, it is difficult to quantify in advance what the return-on-investment from participating might be, as the benefits are often not straightforward.  Launching a social marketing strategy probably won’t immediately generate new sales.  But over the long term, social media can benefit a company in a number of ways: integrating patient health care, improving patient support channels, enhancing the flow of health information, building smoother networks of internal communication, assisting patients’ with therapies, and averting costs that would overwise be endured in more astute operational structures.

(I added this part to my blog, but it is not included in the report.)

As Capitol Hill continues to debate the most efficient legislation for reforming our healthcare system, implementing social media technologies may play an essential role in restructuring communication channels and greasing the flow of reliable health information.



  1. Healthcare will be pretty slow to embrace social media due to privacy issues with patients, etc. but they’re making strides. I think there was a live-Tweeted surgery recently (one of the first, if not THE first).

    Cerner, a Kansas City-based medical software company, just did an interview about similar topics on my company blog:

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