By Lisa Zamosky
Social media has crept its way into virtually all aspects of our lives. In 2005, only 5% of adults logged onto social networking sites. By 2011 that number has shot up to 50%, according to a new report by the Health Research Institute (HRI), an arm of consulting firm PwC.
Health care – although slower than other industries to jump on the social media bandwagon – is not immune to this trend, and all signs point to consumers, doctors, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies continuing to use social media in various ways to gain and disseminate health information and connect with others.
According to the HRI report, which is based on the result of a survey of more than 1,000 consumers and 124 healthcare executives, about one in three people use social media sites such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, among other online forums, to find information about health care, track symptoms, and share their feelings about the doctors, health plans, and various treatments they receive.
According to the survey:
- 42% of consumers have used social media to learn about other patients’ reviews of treatments or doctors
- 25% have posted on a social media site about their own health experience
- 20% have joined a health forum or community (think Patients Like Me or Inspire)
Social media is having an impact on how people get the care they need, too; 45% claim that information found through social media would affect their decisions to seek a second opinion. More than 40% said the way in which they approached the treatment of a chronic condition, their diet, and exercise habits could all be influenced by information they gained via social media.
Not surprisingly, the health-related information most trusted by consumers is posted by health care providers.
And young people ages 18 to 24 are most likely to log on to social media sites when it comes to learning about or managing their health. Baby boomers ages 45 to 64 are the least likely.
The Downside of Connection
A greater connection and access to health care services and information is a good thing. But there can be a downside: the more information you share online, the more information about you is available to not only those with which you choose to share, but also to those you don’t.
According to the report, “healthcare organizations are starting to think about how to harness social media data and integrate it with other information to complete their view of the patient.” How will that information ultimately be used?
Privacy and security are among the top concerns for people sharing their health information through social media, the HRI report found, with many consumers worried about their personal health information being hacked and leaked, and in some cases being used in ways that could have an impact on their health insurance coverage.
What do you say?
Is there a bigger upside to the use of social media in health care or does the threat to privacy loom too large for you to engage online?
Have you ever joined a health community or used reviews you’ve found online to determine whether or not you should see a certain doctor or proceed with a particular treatment?
Be social: Share your experiences in the comments section below.
And if you’re in the market for a health care community, see this earlier post on what to look for on health-related social networking sites.