The patient journey is arriving at your doorstep: five ways the intersection of social media, big data and health can improve patient outcomes

Treato’s CEO Ido Hadari shares his thoughts on how the social media / big data revolution can drive improved outcomes by giving healthcare stakeholders ready access to the patient voice.

It used to be that social health sharing meant telling a family member, a friend or a next-door neighbor about your medical situation, either for advice, to vent or for some good old-fashioned sympathy.

My how times have changed.

Social media has fundamentally changed human culture, and even more amazingly, it did so on a global scale. The world’s second largest nation is headquartered out of Silicon Valley with young president Zuckerberg presiding. Today’s social health opens up inconceivable opportunities to post personal experiences coupled with a cultural emphasis on sharing just about everything.

“It used to be that social health sharing meant telling a family member, a friend or a next-door neighbor about your medical situation…”

Healthcare is no exception. According to the latest social media report by PwC’s Health Research Institute, nearly 25% of consumers have posted about their own health experiences, and 42% have used social media to access health-related consumer reviews. In 2013, Dr. Google is the world’s most popular and probably most influential physician.

The result is a vast source of information by and about patients that can ultimately affect health outcomes. This is where Big Data comes in. Thanks to this second gigantic development to take place in recent years, the massive jumble of “raw” content that’s being posted by patients across the social web holds the potential to impact their care.

The collective patient voice is everywhere. With Big Data, the billions of online conversations patients are having on the thousands of forums, blogs and discussion groups now available to them can become meaningful insights health organizations can use to drive treatment, as well as outreach and communications. With its advanced algorithms and analytics, “big data” can become transformative.

What’s taking place is accelerating the paradigm shift already underway towards more patient-centric, value-driven healthcare.

That’s because having immediate access to the “patient voice” means knowing patients’ hopes, challenges, behaviors, attitudes, concerns and fears in order to better serve them throughout their treatment journey. It makes the value of some of the traditional methods we are using today to understand patients seem as outdated as listening in as they chat to one another over the backyard fence.

“…nearly 25% of consumers have posted about their own health experiences, and 42% have used social media to access health-related consumer reviews”

The power and aggregated wisdom of the collective voice has already transformed multiple industries; you would probably never book a hotel in an unfamiliar location without consulting a site such as TripAdvisor, and the social GPS Waze (now owned by Google) not only gets you where you need to go, but gets you there faster and with the least frustration from traffic jams.

With the help of big data, a similar revolution spurred by social media is now finally happening in healthcare. Here are some of the ways we see the industry benefitting:

1) Identify unmet patient needs with new offerings

Through social media analytics it is possible to zoom in on key junctures in the patient journey, and learn about patients’ unmet needs. Pharmaceutical companies and other stakeholders can use what they learn to introduce new, better suited products and services. One example of a company addressing this issue of innovation head on is Teva Pharmaceuticals, with its New Therapeutic Entities (NTE) strategy. Analysis of patient voices in social media can become a consistent source to nourish such a strategy. New ideas could include finding improved methods of drug delivery, optimized dosing, or ways to support patients’ quality of life while taking a medication.

2) Quickly address potential treatment issues

Patient-generated content can be a ripe source for advance knowledge of potential concerns and problems, providing possible early warning to savvy pharmaceutical companies and other healthcare constituents about problems before they escalate. One example is a recent (2012) label update for Proscar and Propecia regarding unanticipated sexual dysfunction associated with the drug. Our research showed that nearly 2% of patient posts written prior – in some cases several years prior – to the FDA announcement, cited some type of sexual dysfunction in relation to these drugs. While perhaps low enough to be missed in a random review, the number can be significant enough to raise a red flag when tracked proactively with the right technology.

“Putting patients at the heart of health strategy holds the key to a win-for-all outcome”

3) Reduce market response time

While prescription data and focus groups offer valuable metrics, patients and even HCPs nowadays expect pharmaceutical companies to work at Internet speed. If a company discovers patients collectively voicing complaints about their drug online, they can use the feedback to take action and accelerate changes, whether around dosage profiles, method of application or operational aspects of delivering the drug (e.g. can the drug be consumed at home, at the physician’s office or at a specialty clinic). The fact that social health is so immediate makes it possible to further shorten development times and response cycles, often dramatically.

4) Close the physician-patient loop

Incorporating the patient voice into HCP education programs enables pharma companies to become granular and targeted in their efforts. It becomes possible to educate physicians about patient concerns, knowledge gaps and common misconceptions based on what patients are sharing in real time. Physician knowledge gaps and concerns can also be more effectively addressed, based on what patients are saying their physicians tell them. We come across this quite often at the time of new drug launches. Launches are a critical time for drug manufacturers and consumers alike. By accompanying the launch with relevant educational materials for HCPs based on the voice of the patient, pharmaceutical companies can remove the cloud of uncertainty on both sides for greater success.

5) Become a part of the conversation

Patients looking for similar experiences to their own can now find them among others. Keeping a close eye on what they are saying online, even when shared anonymously, is an opportunity for pharmaceutical companies to turn them into advocates by empowering them. In social media, we see patients helping other patients with dietary advice (e.g. “eat a lot of protein before taking that pill”), emotional support (e.g. “stay strong, you’re doing great”), and a multitude of other helpful hints and insights. One recent example that warms my heart involves a colleague that had been suffering from multiple sclerosis for many years and had been prescribed a specific MS drug. He discovered through social media that other patients were experiencing the same side effects as he was from the drug, even though his doctor had completely dismissed it as condition-related. For him, this discovery was a life-changing event. In addition to incorporating these types of collective insights into their own patient communications, health companies can get involved in fostering relationships at the grass roots level and grow closer to their customer community.

With over 110 million US consumers seeking online information specific to prescription medication and even more researching health information online (Manhattan Research), patients are already leading the way to better outcomes by informing themselves, bringing this information to their practitioners, and demanding the care and attention they deserve.

Accessing the “patient voice” through the convergence of social media and Big Data is allowing healthcare stakeholder to follow in step.

These two transformations – a truly open, democratic and borderless arena where millions of patients speak up, together with the technology to digest what they have to say – is making it possible.

Putting patients at the heart of health strategy holds the key to a win-for-all outcome. Which, in the end, is the ultimate positive health outcome.


About the author:

Ido Hadari is the CEO of Treato, the source of “patient voice” intelligence collected from billions of patient conversations across the social web. Treato turns these social health experiences into meaningful insights through its free patient website and professional Treato Pharma platform designed specifically for the health and life sciences industries. Treato is backed by leading funds including Reed Elsevier Ventures, OrbiMed Partners, New Leaf Venture Partners and Western Technology Investments.

Do you incorporate the patient voice into your HCP education programs?