The future of social media and healthcare

By nature, some topics are very social – travel plans, fashion trends, sports scores. Therefore, it makes sense that businesses and organizations in those industries would leverage social media to the best of their abilities.     

The idea of combining healthcare and social media is kind of an oxymoron. After all, who wants to proclaim their illness from the rooftops? Facebook is good for Throwback Thursday, not most common symptoms of genital warts.

Health concerns are traditionally very private…until now.

A shift in medical care means a reliance on new technologies
More than 75 percent of healthcare costs are related to preventable illnesses. That includes – but is not limited to – asthma, diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension and obesity.   

We are all aware of the shift that is taking place in healthcare – a movement from the volume-based model to a value-based system. The financial incentives to improve patient outcomes will revolve around illness prevention. 

Therefore, it is safe to assume doctors and healthcare providers will soon see patients as other industries do – as consumers. In the past, they’ve never had to think of their patients that way. The Affordable Care Act’s dedication to patient outcomes will quickly change that.   

The healthcare industry will seek out ways to improve “customer” satisfaction and increase engagement. As a result, the healthcare system will begin to reach out to consumers in the same way that has proven successful for so many other industries – with social media.

Social media is primed to increase in popularity
The Journal of Internet Medical Research reports that 60 percent of adults use the Internet to find desired health information. That isn’t really surprising. We are a culture of individuals seeking instant gratification. When we are sick, we want to know what is wrong and we want to know it now.

However, it was surprising to learn that – even in our social media driven world – only 15 percent of study participants shared their personal health information in a social venue.

When health concerns are a result of our individual behavior, the people around us can help instigate change. A recent report released by Nielsen shows that 92 percent of participants recognize that the greatest source of influence comes from the people closest to us.

Social media is perfectly positioned to help healthcare providers reach out to patients in a valuable, effective way.

Following their lead
Health industry professionals who are wondering where to get started should probably take a look at what Mayo Clinic is doing. They have honed social media into an art form.  They even have an entire center – The Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media – dedicated to perfecting social networking.

Mayo Clinic has the most popular medical provider channel on YouTube. They have nearly 600,000 followers on Twitter and more than 450,000 people have liked their Facebook page. Not only that, but they have additional Facebook pages that relate to different specialties – breast cancer, gynecology, cochlear implants. As if that weren't enough, they publish three different blogs with three different target audiences.   

Now they are sharing their expertise with the masses. As healthcare evolves in the coming years, we suspect more and more industry professionals will try to emulate what Mayo Clinic has done. And with the services they provide in their personal social media network -- access to resources, webinars and extensive training programs in the use of social media – it is safe to assume a few more healthcare providers will emerge victorious in the social media realm.

The Affordable Care Act will definitely influence the healthcare industry in a big way. Reliance on social media is just one of the changes we can expect to see.

Jessica Velasco works for a marketing firm in Clearwater, Fla.  She recently came on board to help Brent Agin, MD, of Trim Nutrition with his social networking.  Trim Nutrition uses vitamin injections to help battle obesity -- one of America’s most preventable illnesses.  Therefore, Agin is very invested in the idea of using social media to connect with his patients and increase awareness of weight-loss injections.