According to a 2008 report by the California Healthcare Foundation, 34 percent of Americans searching for health information online go directly to social media sites, behind only health portal sites and general search engines.
So what does the healthcare industry become when information for patients and practitioners is measured by Tweets and views, by fans and followers?
Patients are becoming a part of the diagnosis process
More and more, people on social networks are talking about how to find the right places to seek out medical treatment or the right questions to ask their health care practitioner to help that practitioner in their diagnosis. Such self-serve elements of the healthcare process could revolutionize the relationship between patients and professionals. Is it a good thing? Perhaps, as long as there are standards and best-practices (which the FDA and other entities are rushing to try and establish.)
Patients are reviewing healthcare products
Not only are patients able to become part of the diagnosis and even treatment process, but with the advent of rating systems, recommendation engines, and reviews via wiki sites, social networking has facilitated a critical mass healthcare recipients who are able to influence healthcare facilities and manufacturers by providing feedback on how medical treatment made them feel.
Healthcare workers are open books to the public
Physician Glenn Laffel, blogger and VP at Practice Fusion – a fast-growing electronic health record community - noted in a September blog posting that healthcare individuals and institutions are staking a claim on the social media frontier faster than ever: The Mayo Clinic has nearly 9.000 followers on its Facebook page and more than 7,000 followers on Twitter. Mount Sinai’s In Vitro fertilization videos have garnered more than 40,000 views on YouTube.
Healthcare professionals could be sitting ducks via their public profiles
An interesting problem Laffel raises is that with more and more healthcare professionals (and students) posting personal, sometimes unprofessional details online, in some cases, patients can now view their physician’s marital status, political views, and photos of vacations or even excessive alcohol consumption.
An age of transparency, whether the industry is ready for it or not
Wikis, networks, and other sharing tools are quickly beginning to give patients access to basic information to let them manage their own health. Beyond just living a healthy lifestyle, “prosumers” interacting on such sites often have a condition they’re looking to manage themselves.
Patients are getting listened-to as much as experts
In a blurring-of-the-line between medical experts and medical pundits who’ve gained street-cred through firsthand experience or just garnering a large audience online, you’re more and more likely to find useful medical information from someone without a medical degree. But is that a good thing? An example of how this transformation could be beneficial for all is a diabetes blog written by a journalist who recently found out she had the condition.
Drug and medical device companies will have to reinvent their policies
This November, the FDA will hold a public hearing to gather opinions on how companies that manufacture drugs, medical devices and prescription biologics present and conduct themselves on social networking sites. Should such companies be transparent about trying to influence people on such sites, either directly or through a third party? And how can regulatory requirements be fulfilled in 180 characters or less?
Healthcare companies with small budgets will catch up to the big boys
Not a pharmaceutical company with a gazillion-dollar-budget? No problem in the social media universe: Using promotion through social networking sites, in conjunction with traditional online campaigns, companies with modest funds can quickly and [comparatively] cheaply build meaningful relationships with large numbers of potential customers.