Last night CNN ran a story about Salvatore Iaconesi – a man who posted his medical records online after being diagnosed with a brain tumor. His hope is that other patients who have faced a similar diagnosis can help him make the right treatment and care decisions. While crowd-sourcing cancer treatment may seem extreme, one thing is clear: patients are turning to each other – and social media for answers.
Iaconesi is not alone. PwC’s 2012 Social Media Consumer Survey showed that 24% of people have commented about their own health via social media in the last 12 months. Surveys from Facebook indicated that more than 69% of users have used posts to talk about their own health or that of a family member. We’ve all read those posts – or even made a few of our own. And, the Pew Research Center reports that one in four internet users living with high blood pressure, diabetes, heart conditions, lung conditions, cancer, or some other chronic ailment say they have gone online to find others with similar health concerns. All sources seem to agree that patients are turning to social media to share their stories – but the engagement does not stop there.
From Stories to Reviews
Patients are not just sharing personal experiences – they are discussing treatment plans, carriers and clinicians. The PwC study reports that 32% of patients’ online post reviews of medications, treatments, doctors or health insurers. For example, reviews on RxList are a collection of comments from WebMD. The reviews reach beyond the standard information included from the drug maker or pharmacy to talk about personal experiences with the drug as well as commentary on other related drugs. It seems that patients have figured out what hospitals and physicians have not – social media is a popular health information and management tool.
Even more surprising is the increased credence patients are giving to social sources across the board. More than 60% of patients trust the information they get via the social channels of patient advocacy groups and hospitals. 53% trust social information shared by other patients or caregivers. In fact, social health searches impacted the treatment decisions of almost 60% patients online in the US in 2011 according to the Health on the Net Foundation.
Two years ago patients used social media as a virtual support group to share first-hand accounts of their personal health journey. Currently, we have begun to see patients harness the true power of social media to share and obtain information that aids decision making. But, with only 1/5 of U.S. hospitals active on Facebook, and 71% of physicians concerned that any social media contact with patients equates a liability an important part of the puzzle is missing. Hopefully the next year will show this social gap begin to close. Hospitals and clinicians have a tremendous opportunity to serve their patients and communities by embracing social media and leveraging it to remain an important source of information and support to patients and their caregivers. The opportunity is evident – the question is: will they seize it?