The Functional Role of Social Media in Health Care

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 People are always skeptical of new media.  Many people thought the television, for example, would fail.   And then it changed our lives.  

It is rather amazing how quickly communications is changing.  Last week, I wrote about the launch of the i-Pad and its potential as an even greater accelerant for the use of social media.  Steve Woodruff wrote on the Impactiviti blog an insightful posting about how i-Pad might impact eHealth, serving as a game changer in that regard.  Even as new developments roll out, with the environment changing so quickly, it is worthwhile to consider exactly how recently developed tools are, in fact, making themselves felt in health care communications today.

The new tools that have emerged have assumed important functional roles.  For example, Facebook, Blogs, YouTube and even Web sites are message platforms.  It is a place where you can put information and resources for people, or even to express thought leadership.  These tools serve multiple functions, but essentially they do this.  They draw together a group of people who are already interested in your subject matter so that you can deliver messages to them – messages that they will echo to their own followers.  

But it is not a "if you build it, they will come" proposition.   There are a lot of pharma (as well as FDA) YouTube channels that have anemic subscription rolls that prove that, as well as other sites.  In order to gain a following, you need to get the word out.  You need to drive traffic.

Twitter has many functions.  Twitter, first, also delivers a message, albeit in a much more compact form than any of the tools listed above.  But Twitter also fulfills some very important roles.  Twitter is a driver of traffic.  By inserting a URL into a Tweet and sending it out, you are driving traffic to your site.  In fact, the Eye on FDA Twitter feed drives about 10-20% of the daily traffic to the blog. Twitter also does something else.  Twitter allows you to reach not only your friends, but the friends of your friends.  Twitter creates an echo chamber that pushes your message out in a far different way than it would by taking out an advertisement on the back of a city bus where hopefully, someone in your target audience reads the ad and acts on it.  

But when you send out a message on Twitter, it goes out to people who want to get your messages – they have raised their hand and said that they are interested in your subject matter.  But when they re-tweet it, they are sending it out to their own constituency – people you don't know, because they think they too will be interested.   The likelihood of seeing and acting on the message grows exponentially, and the cost is a fraction of that ad on the back of a bus.  

And consider that on Twitter, you can aggregate Tweets along subject matter lines using hashtags and creating lists, like the one I created on Eye on FDA that includes all pharma tweets.  

In health care, that can be extremely important.  You can, for example, aggregate tweets by disease category.  I did a sample of just a few disease areas, and it was astounding the number of professional and patient societies now on Twitter.  You can get a bird's eye view of what's important in nearly every single disease-specific category merely by putting together a few lists.  And you will be getting the news in real time, which in today's environment, is all important.

The creation and uptake of new tools used to take a generation.  The television came along in the late 1920s but didn't revolutionize communications until the 1950s.  In 1981, newspapers began experimenting with making news copy available on the computer, but it wasn't until the 21st century reading a newspaper online became mainstream.  Compared to that kind of innovation and uptake, today's new tools, and their adoption into use is breathtaking.  

When a new tool like i-Pad comes out, it is therefore extremely important to assess its potential uses in the health care market place.  But it is also essential to look back and take stock of the tools we have and see what roles they fulfill and what potentials are laying around untouched, particularly given the public drive to use these new tools to make important decisions about their health care and treatment options.  

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2 Responses to The Functional Role of Social Media in Health Care

  1. Aurora says:

    Very relevant post, and I think you make a good point. It does take time for new technology’s impact to really make itself felt. For example I read a post in another blog today about how itouches are being used in haiti to keep track of health care records. This is the sort of use that probably wasn’t imagined by the the creators of the itouch. The new uses will come from other people, just like you said. I guess we’ll have to wait and see what comes from the new technology. I’m excited to see what it is.
    -Aurora
    http://www.mditv.com

  2. I loved the way you exlained things. Much better many here