The growth of the Internet and the rise of social networks have changed the way we communicate, interact, find information, shop, learn, and more, including the way we learn about healthcare pharmaceuticals and medical devices
The number of groups that have grown around specific issues in healthcare is astounding.
Hashtags help categorize conversations within social media, marking them by keywords or acronyms specific to a certain topic. This makes it easier to create and find specific communities, whether it’s #HCSM (healthcare social media), #Diabetes, or #BreastCancer. Twitter chats are ways for people around the globe to come together to discuss specific topics. Symplur is doing a great job of compiling all of the healthcare hashtags and categorizing them.
Facebook now boasts 2 billion users. Twitter is estimated to have more than 500 million users. With this many users, communities within communities have developed in each social network. These communities have served to fill a void in the lives of people who face health problems, satisfying the universal human desire to know “you are not alone.”
The Internet is incredibly powerful in its way to connect people and to also educate and empower people. It will serve as a valuable communications tool for direct-to-patient marketing that has become more important for healthcare marketers who need to evolve to the new healthcare economy and focus more on patients.
Here are 5 ways social media is giving rise to the empowered patient:
- Before the Internet connected people from every corner of the globe, people with medical conditions and diseases may or may not have had the privilege of knowing someone who they could talk with who shared their experiences. A lot of people lived in isolation, in a world where they didn’t believe people understood the challenges they faced, their fears, or their problems. Humans have an innate desire to feel connected with people who live life through similar lenses. Not only are we driven to find a community to surround ourselves with, but also we can do so much when we work together. We like to share information and discuss issues that are important to us. We like to know if other people experience the same feelings toward an issue if other people experience similar health issues if someone else out there can sympathize with our unique journeys. Social media has shown us how much people are willing to reach out to others to comfort each other and provide support, even to total strangers.
- When it comes to healthcare social media and online communities, patients are coming in droves to empower themselves with information about treatment options and knowledge about medical devices. This is one of the greatest assets of the Internet, to be able to arm ourselves with more information than ever before. Many people are now taking charge of their own healthcare, researching their options before they meet with their doctors, and asking their doctors questions about treatment options. This creates a new dynamic between healthcare providers and patients. Instead of physicians telling patients about their healthcare options, patients are engaging in a dialogue with doctors to find alternative strategies and to take advantage of the latest technology and innovations. The more knowledge we collectively have, the better. When patients research treatment options, they can feel better prepared to discuss their treatment options when they visit the doctor.
- While it feels good to be self-advocates, people also take to social media to become community advocates. Another integral benefit of having online communities is bringing together those who are not speaking the same stories, but stories that are different than ours. People use social media to spread awareness about a disease or condition and to champion causes, and their stories are able to motivate others to help join their cause. People who are not even affected by a disease or condition can become the biggest advocates. There is something uniquely powerful and uplifting about groups of people who have never met, who come from completely different areas of the globe, who can rally behind a cause. It gives us hope that together, we can improve our lives as individuals, improve our communities, and make life a little better for people. We find out that when we come together, we can make a difference.
- Blogs have given people a voice, giving them a chance to share their unique journeys and give insight about what it’s really like to live with a condition. One family took to blogging and sharing their journey with their daughter who is battling cancer. The Merrick family has received an outpouring of support on Facebook. Daisy’s mom reveals her fears and their hopes, the meetings with doctors, and the difficult decisions they’ve had to make throughout Daisy’s many surgeries and extensive chemotherapy. Family, friends, and total strangers had followed their story as the family bravely traveled all the way to Israel to seek alternative care. Before social media existed, there wouldn’t have been the power to share this experience in real-time, or for people all across the globe to learn about these different treatment options. The community had rallied behind Daisy. They send well wishes, pray for her, and offer their support. It hasn’t gone unnoticed. On the blog it says: “One day, her parents found her spinning the globe and kissing it, to ‘thank all the people who are praying for me.’”
- There are social networks centered entirely on a specific disease or condition. In 2012, Forbes wrote an article titled “Help for Diabetics Beyond the Doctor’s Office.” The article explains how 70-year-old Mary Ann had taken to the social network Diabetic Connect, to meet and talk with other people with Diabetes, and how it has helped her manage the disease. “I’m actually talking to other diabetics who have to live with the disease 24/7. They give me a lot of support and the strength that I desperately need,” Mary Ann said. This opportunity to motivate people to take care of their health with the encouragement of a social community is huge. Social communities not only provide this much-needed encouragement, but they can also help spread awareness about what things are important to watch out for when living with a particular disease, how to manage the accompanying health conditions, and to educate patients who may be unaware or new to the disease.
There are so many possibilities for social media to change the way we do healthcare, educate patients, and interact online. As we continue to understand the capabilities and potential when we unite together online, there will hopefully be more educated patients who are taking charge of their health and doing what it takes to stay healthy. The power of social within the healthcare space will be enduring, because people will always have the innate human desire to connect with one another, and health will always remain one of the most important parts of people’s lives.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in December 2012 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.