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PwC Study: Consumer Activity on Social Media Dwarfs that of Healthcare Companies

April 18, 2012

Social media is changing the healthcare landscape, and health organizations that ignore this environment may be missing opportunities to engage consumers, according to a report by the Health Research Institute (HRI) at PwC US. The report, “Social media likes healthcare: From marketing to social business,” found that social media activity by hospitals, health insurers and pharmaceutical companies is miniscule compared to the activity on community sites.

While eight in 10 healthcare companies (as tracked by HRI during a sample one-week period) had a presence on various social media sites, community sites had 24 times more social media activity than corporate sites. The finding holds implications for businesses looking to capitalize on social media opportunities.

“The power of social media for health organizations is in listening and engaging with consumers on their terms. Social media has created a new customer service access point where consumers expect an immediate response,” said Kelly Barnes, US Health Industries leader, PwC. “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. Savvy adopters are viewing social media as a business strategy, not just a marketing tool.”

PwC’s report of more than 1,000 U.S. consumers and 124 members of the eHealth Initiative (eHI), a national association of industry organizations focusing on health information and technology, monitored more than 30 industry executives and tracked the social media activity of a number of hospitals, insurers, drug manufacturers, and online patient communities to create a Week-in-the-life of Social Health snapshot.

The consumer survey found:

One-third of consumers use social media for health-related matters, including seeking medical information, tracking and sharing symptoms, and broadcasting how they feel about doctors, drugs, treatments, medical devices and health plans.

Four in 10 consumers have used social media to find health-related consumer reviews (e.g., of treatments or physicians); one in three have sought information related to other patients’ experiences with their disease; one in four have “posted” about their health experience; and one in five have joined a health forum or community.

When asked how information found through social media would affect their health decisions, 45 percent of consumers said it would affect their decision to get a second opinion; 41 percent said it would affect their choice of a specific doctor, hospital or medical facility; 34 percent said it would affect their decision about taking a certain medication; and 32 percent said it would affect their choice of a health insurance plan.

Seventy-two percent of consumers said they would appreciate assistance in scheduling doctor appointments through social media channels, but nearly half said they would expect a response within a few hours.

As is the case, young adults are leading the social media healthcare charge. More than 80 percent of individuals between the ages of 18 and 24 said they were likely to share health information through social media channels and nearly 90 percent said they would trust information they found there. By comparison, less than half (45 percent) of individuals between the ages of 45 and 64 said they were likely to share health information via social media.

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