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Report: Social media offers opportunities for health care organizations Posted: April 27th, 2012

By Maryalene LaPonsie

Maryalene LaPonsie has been writing professionally for more than a decade on topics including education, insurance and personal finance. She holds a Bachelor's Degree in Political Science from Western Michigan University.

Led by young adults, some consumers are heading to social media sites for medical information and physician reviews. However, a report from the Health Research Institute at PwC US suggests health care organizations may be missing out as patients head to community groups rather than corporate pages.

According to the report, community sites have 24 times more social media activity than corporate sites. The gap isn't due to a lack of presence on the part of health care organizations; of the organizations tracked by the institute, 80 percent are active on social media sites.

However, the institute notes many organizations have not fully integrated social business components, such as customer service, into their social media sites, which may explain why consumers are not as engaged as they are elsewhere.

Social media's influence on health care

As part of its report, PwC conducted a consumer survey to gauge social media activities. Not surprisingly, young adults from the ages of 18-24 are the demographic most comfortable using social media sites for health care purposes. More than 80 percent say they would share health information through these sites while 90 percent say they trust information provided via social media.

Other findings from the survey indicate social media use for health care is becoming more mainstream.

Thirty-three percent of consumers use social media sites to seek out medical information as well as provide feedback on physicians and health insurance plans. Forty percent of consumers use social media to seek out health-related reviews or learn more about patient experiences with a particular disease.

Meanwhile, among those who use social media sites to seek out medical information:

  • 45 percent say what they learn could affect their decision to get a second opinion.
  • 41 percent say this information would affect their choice of health care provider.
  • 34 percent say this information would affect their decision to take a particular medication.
  • 32 percent say this information would influence their choice of health insurance plans.

The survey responses also present a challenge for health care organizations trying to meet the expectations of patients. Nearly three-fourths of survey respondents would like to turn to social media sites when scheduling appointments, but almost half want a response within a few hours.

"Social media has created a new customer service access point where consumers expect an immediate response," said Kelly Barnes, US health industries leader for PwC, in a statement. "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."