One area that we spend a lot of time talking and often complaining about is our health. So it’s surprising that the healthcare industry is lagging behind when it comes to social media as this is where the conversation today is happening.
It’s believed that the healthcare industry is almost 10 years behind other industries that are actively engaging with consumers and taking part in conversations in the social media playground.
It seems prevalent to say that “Apple each day keeps doctors away” as many doctor offices and hospitals have been overly cautious when approaching social media, where the vast majority of them completely avoid it.
Why doctors and hospitals should be active on social media platforms
The thing to realize is that people are more focused on health and wellbeing today than ever before. The downside with this obsession with health is that the smallest ailment will call for immediate investigation, more often than not via search engine platforms.
Google is often the first point of call to look up or clarify any given symptom. Not always ideal though, as this often leads patients down quite an ominous path and generally providing quite an obscure ‘medical’ diagnosis.
Patients have been searching for health information online for ages however I find it odd that today in a world that is moving more and more to the digital space, there are very few doctors available online to offer clarity and knowledge to support online medical searches.
How the healthcare industry can optimize social media
Besides just goggling symptoms and illnesses people are using social media and online platforms to engage with others who might have experienced the same or similar illness and be able to offer advice, recommend doctors, hospitals, health care practitioners and even (doctors reading this don’t fall off your chair) treatment advise.
As a result patients tend to self-medicate based on information provided either resulting from a Google search or from speaking to someone online.
What’s key to remember is that healthcare isn’t all that different from other industries; patients are still talking and having conversations about their experiences with hospitals, doctors, physicians and so on however the key difference here is that in general the conversation is going on without them.
Bridging the gap
Besides the obvious customer care oriented benefits of including social media in any medical practice, there is also the fact that the risks of not being involved far outweigh the risks of being part of it.
Not understanding this space or refusing to engage with it is no longer a valid reason for ignoring it especially in an industry where patients will listen to “someone like me” more than they’ll listen to a healthcare provider.
There is also a lot to be said with regards to scheduling appointments or ordering medicine through online platforms. It’s no doubt that integrating social media into everyday medical practices would make the lives of health practitioner’s as well as their patients a lot more convenient.
Imagine you could book a doctor’s appointment online, or better still through a Facebook app or on your phone. Imagine being able to view available time slots, book your appointment and even pay in advance online.
Better yet – imagine being able to log all your medical history and each doctors visit in an online space which you can refer back to at any given time. Prescriptions could be stored in an online database which pharmacies, clinics or hospitals would be able to have access to should the need arise. Obviously privacy setting will need to prevalent but there’s no doubt in my mind that this can be done.
Going as far as to be able to order your medication through your social media medical apps would take the pain out of visiting a specialist and also aid those who are possibly not able to easily physically go out to collect mediation.
A healthy use of the digital space
Although there is still a long way to go in terms of the healthcare professionals and practitioners getting up to speed with the new world of work, there are some health care professionals and organizations that are getting it right.
According to a whitepaper issued by Deloitte social media uptake within the health care industry does seem to be growing.
PatientsLikeMe is a website that gives consumers a way to track disease progress, access disease information as well as learn from the real-world experiences of other patients with the same medical condition and share their findings with patients, health care professionals and industry organizations that are trying to treat the disease.
MedHelp offers a number of tracking tools for pain, weight and other chronic conditions. is a consumer-directed site which, in addition to being a social network,
CureTogether allows people anonymously track and compare health data to better understand their bodies, make more informed treatment decisions and contribute data to research.
DailyStrength allows patients and caregivers to give and receive support. With over 500 communities of people who share similar challenges, medical conditions, and mental health issues users are able to engage with others who understand exactly what you’re going through.
Inspire builds online health and wellness communities for patients and caregivers and helps people connect and engaged to offer and seek advice.
FacetoFace Health is also a medical social network which uses an algorithm to connect people with similar diagnoses to others who share the same or similar health experiences. It allows them to share their stories, and find others, quickly and privately to offer and gain support.
What’s happening locally?
Although online communities with a health focus does seem to be on the rise globally, what’s happening in the digital space a little closer to home?
Hello Doctor although driven by traditional above the line TV-media the program does seem to be incorporating social media into the mix so as to increase awareness and engagement with the brand itself.
I do think they could use social media better in that their current usage is predominantly one way messaging and primarily focused on the show itself. Using social media as a means to gauge what issues are most prominent amongst their audience could boost their ratings and level of engagement tremendously.
They have integrated an online community within the website which allows users to interact with and seek advice from health care professional online, however this is not largely communicated and I think this could be a focal point which could bridge the gap and provide much needed service.
The future for healthcare online?
I believe there to be massive opportunity for South African health professionals to use social media as a platform for diagnosing, treating and offering advice. Integrating mobile into this communication mix would extend the reach tremendously and allow those who previously, might not have had access to professional health care advice, the chance to speak up and get the treatment and assistance they really need.