Monday, May 17, 2010

The Relationship Between Social Media and the Healthcare Industry

This is a guest post by John Smith. If you're interested in submitting a guest post, please contact me.

During the past few years, we’ve seen a number of industries hop on the social media bandwagon. One of the most interesting things to watch is the way the healthcare industry is adapting to this new social media climate. The simple truth is healthcare consumers are using social media to search for information about medications, treatments, and other health issues. Now, it’s time for healthcare providers and marketers to start building active social media presences to better connect with patients.

The health care industry first dipped its toes into the social media pool with blogs and podcasts. In fact, the Mayo Clinic launched a podcast back in 2005, and since then, they’ve built an active Facebook presence, created a YouTube channel with videos of physicians discussing illnesses and treatments, launched a consumer-focused blog, and built another blog for the media to improve medical reporting procedures.

But the Mayo Clinic isn’t the only company in the healthcare industry going social. Some other examples include:

The list could go on and on, but you get the point. Many in the healthcare industry are finding new ways to leverage social media to better communicate with patients, other healthcare professionals, and the general public who just wants to learn more about illnesses, treatments, and research.

Now, having said all of this, the truth is the healthcare industry still has a long way to go before it truly starts connecting with consumers on a meaningful level through social media. Many healthcare companies are still resistant to using social media, and they have several reasons for their opposition. The reasons for slow adoption of social media include:

  • There are confidentiality issues with social media because it’s all about transparency and sharing.
  • Medical professional don’t want to sacrifice the patient’s trust.
  • There are liability issues that come with giving medical advice to others online.
  • Healthcare professionals don’t understand how social media can benefit their businesses.
  • Some believe social media is too new, so we don’t know the capabilities or dangers of this tool.
  • There are reputational risks with social media as dissatisfied consumers could damage your brand.
It’s interesting to note that the healthcare industry has increased its spending on online marketing efforts every single year for the past several years. As social media continues to increase in prominence, we fully expect that trend to continue. Eventually, more healthcare professionals will begin to understand the benefits of social media and more consumers will demand to be able to connect with their doctors online. Remember, this is an industry that still uses fax machines to get patient’s medical records and to send information back and forth, so the adoption process may be slow.

The truth is that even though social media may not become a tool every doctor uses for communicating with patients, it can help raise awareness about important health issues, educating the public on various illnesses and important treatments. Think about it: If a major emergency health crisis popped up (like the Swine Flu), medical professionals could use tools like Twitter and their blogs to quickly spread important health information to the public so they can stay safe and healthy.

It’ll be interesting to continue to watch the healthcare industry figure out social media. What do you think will happen?

John Smith manages the nursing scrubs website, one stop online shop for branded lab coats, scrub tops and all kind of medical uniforms.

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