Consumers getting comfortable with social media as a health resource

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Around a third of US adults use social media as a health resource, according to a survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers – whether seeking out medical info, sharing symptoms and experiences or rating drugs, devices, doctors, hospitals and health plans.

The consulting giant surveyed 1,060 US adults and found that 42% have viewed health-related consumer reviews (more or less evenly split between reviews of treatments, doctors, hospitals and health insurers) through social networks like Twitter and Facebook. A third have read of friends' or family members' health experiences through social media, while 29% have read of other patients' experience with a disease they have and 24% have viewed health-related videos and images posted by other patients.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, those users skew young. Where more than four-fifths of 18-24-year olds said they'd share health information through social media, fewer than half (45%) of those 45-64 said the same. And across the board, users choose community sites over company-sponsored ones, which see hundreds of posts and comments per day where community sites see thousands.

“In fact, community sites had 24 times more social media activity on average than any of the health industry companies” over the one-week timeframe studied, said the PwC report. Part of the problem, for pharmas, is that many have disallowed comments for fear of tripping over ill-defined regulatory lines. Fewer than one in three drug companies have Facebook walls for people to post on, where two-thirds of companies on the provider and insurer side of the business do so.  

“Consumers are using social media in all parts of their daily life,” said Karla Anderson, a partner with the pharma and life sciences practice at PwC. “Healthcare is just another part of that, and as companies give consumers access, that's being adopted.”  
 
Those consumers expect healthcare companies to be lightning-quick in responding to requests for information via social media, with four in ten saying they'd expect a response within a few hours. That's a pretty high bar for companies that often don't even have much of a social media presence to speak of, but Anderson says that's changing.

“We're seeing people using social media in much more broad ways, particularly around customer service, from collecting information on customer satisfaction to support services,” said Anderson. “Companies are using it very powerfully internally as well now.”
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