Consumer Centric Social Tools Are Impacting Healthcare

FEB 10

A growing number of healthcare industry leaders are using social media tools to support their brand, enhance advertising campaigns, improve consumer communications and proactively address public perceptions.

The social networking landscape is fragmented and confusing for many healthcare organizations.  Just two years ago the vast majority of health plans, pharmaceutical, hospitals and government entities didn’t include social tools or platforms on their marketing roadmap.  In fact many viewed it as likely ineffective and difficult to measure, much less being fraught with legal and regulatory issues.

Things have changed in 2011. A growing number of these firms are now leveraging approaches to social technology and below we’ve posed a few examples:

Health Plans


  • Social media tools for health plans are still in the early stages of adoption and most large / regional health plans have a meager 200 to 800 followers on Twitter.  These enterprising health plans seek to steer their population towards healthier behavior and a properly utilized online social presence can be part of the solution.  But for health plans social tools are not only about coaching and health advice. One major health plan is using social tools to advertise its online care service and recruit new members to sign up online to take advantage of the service.  Health plans can also get instant consumer feedback and address complaints at their source by communicating with members who are unhappy with or don’t understand care options or billing issues.

Pharmaceutical and Life Sciences Companies

  • Example: Pfizer, the global drug manufacturer, has dozens of Twitter accounts, organized by country and region to deliver targeted news to specific groups. Pfizer also has Twitter accounts for activist causes such as Pfizer_Beef, which has a stated goal to “…share our passion for animal health and the productivity of livestock”.


  • Rather than fueling the perception that drug companies are just out to sell the next pill, Pfizer is aiming to use social media to soften its image and become more visible to consumers for the right reasons, while providing helpful and targeted information across different subject matters, geographies, and languages.

Hospitals and Other Providers

  • Example: The VA Maryland Health Care System launched its Facebook page in April 2010 and in less than one year boasts nearly 1,000 Facebook fans. According to its website, being a fan will allow users to share experiences, give “shout outs” to favorite doctors and nurses, and react to and be part of a discussion about topics posted on the fan page.
  • Hospitals and other providers are beginning to see that social media tools are an alternative channel to provide quick and easy access to the latest news, telephone numbers, and other important information. These social media tools can provide tangible value to the hospital by facilitating collaboration between themselves and patients, volunteers, family members, and friends. Such a benefit should not be overlooked and could mean a more positive relationship with its surrounding community and more traffic through its doors.



  • Example: The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) launched a website called eHealth Metrics Dashboard to provide civilians with up-to-date facts on everything from flu season to salmonella warnings.  CDC disseminates its information through a variety of social channels including YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.


  • According to Federal Computer Week, the CDC is seeing some serious traction. Mobile views of CDC social media and websites nearly doubled month-over-month to 263,000 last February and the agency has over 1 million Twitter followers. The CDC’s success serves as a shining example of how the government can improve communication and access to information to benefit the health of our national as a whole.

As the number of healthcare organizations who are establishing an online social presence grows, the positive benefits around real-time feedback and product / service improvements will be hard to ignore.

A focus on social media is impacting our research agenda for 2011, and has a unique role in the agenda for our upcoming Summit on mHealth in May.  We’ll keep an eye on the range of legal and regulatory issues being discussed in the market as private health information and data management disciplines mesh around social media, marketing, sales and service.

We welcome your feedback on this topic.

Michael Boardman
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