Consumer use of social media in healthcare

Rich Meyer

World of DTC marketing

Rich Meyer recently undertook a design initiative to gain an insight into how consumers are using social media for healthcare information and decisions. Here he shares his findings.

Over the last two months I had the chance to design and implement a qualitative research initiative designed to better understand how consumers are using social media for healthcare information and decisions. The research consisted of consumers who have searched for online health information within the last 3–4 months and varied in demographics. Here are some of the key findings.

1. The search for health information is triggered by either health concerns of a patient or health concerns of a family member. Even people who believe they are in really good health do not proactively search for health information. It is usually driven by some type of trigger with the most saying they go online because of a concern (i.e. pain, problem) or because they are caregivers for a family member that is having problems.

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“The search for health information is triggered by either health concerns of a patient or health concerns of a family member.”

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2. There is not one site that people go to for health information. They go to various sites to collect the information they need and often feel frustrated when they can’t get answers to basic questions. Older demographics feel overwhelmed with the amount of health information online and start their searches with search engines. The top mentioned sites for health information were Web MD and Mayo Clinic.

3. Some people will use social media as part of their search for health information but they have very low trust that posts are accurate and are mostly looking for experiences of people who currently have certain health conditions or take certain medications. The more intrusive the treatment (i.e. surgery) the more time they are likely to spend online and in social media reading others experiences.

4. People do not want to post information about their health in social media forums because they are concerned about privacy issues. When we showed them, for example, how Facebook can show what they have posted and where they have been online some were “very concerned” and expressed displeasure that others could see that they have been researching certain health conditions. This was a major concern for older demographics.

5. Women will go to a lot more health sites and collect more information than men when it comes to making healthcare decisions.

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“Women will go to a lot more health sites and collect more information than men when it comes to making healthcare decisions.”

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6. Their physician is still a very important source of medical information but patients want a more collaborative approach to their health. They want to be able to ask about options and don’t like being “talked down to”. However a lot of people said they are seeing their doctors less because of higher co-pays and the demands of their jobs.

7. Some patients said they had not filled Rx’s because they did not want to deal with the potential side effects of the drugs. To them quality of life is more important and they feel that they can alter their lifestyles rather than take a prescription.

During the focus groups we did not hear one mention of any drug company websites as a source of health information but we did here comments about the trustworthiness of drug companies and the FDA. Some people, for example, mentioned the commercials for legal firms recruiting patients for litigation against drug companies.

The other frustration for consumer looking for healthcare information online was the both the complexity of the health information and it’s ease of understanding. Some that they often grew frustrated with complex medical terms found in health information and wanted a “one stop website” for all their health information. It was also interesting to note that a lot of people “got lost” within Web MD’s site and said that the site had “too much going on” with their websites (i.e. too many call to action).

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“…a lot of people said they are seeing their doctors less because of higher co-pays and the demands of their jobs.”

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Social media is becoming a bigger part of the collection of health information, but it varies by health condition and treatment options. The more serious the condition, the more time spent online researching it online with social media as part of the equation.

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About the author:

Richard Meyer is a passionate DTC marketer who has worked within the industry for 10 years. He has an MBA from the New York Institute of Technology and has worked for Eli Lilly on the Cialis launch team as well as on Prozac, Prozac Weekly and Sarafem teams. During his career, he has worked with some very talented people and learned a great deal from them but has always believed that if you do what is best for the patient it will lead to good business. For enquiries he may be reached on richardameyer@me.com.

How do you see consumers using social media in healthcare?