In my last column, I discussed how patients use social media to access health information (October 2012, p. 22). To summarize, some basic trends are strikingly clear. Women are generally more concerned about their health than men, and seek information from both the Internet and their physicians. It is also clear that women make most of the health decisions for their families. Additionally, we know that many patients use social media to connect with one another to share their experiences with both rare and common diseases.
Explore this issue:March 2013
In this month’s column, I’ll take a look at industry participation in social media and how it is used internally and with patients. Currently, we know that approximately 35 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds use social media to access some kind of health information. Older patients are more reluctant to use the Internet and are much less likely to use social media for any type of health information. Patients of all ages continue to rely heavily on physicians for health information, according to digital marketing agency TopRank Online Marketing. Patients turn most frequently to their personal or primary care physicians, and then to specialists, for information. Notably, at the very bottom of the list of popular sources of health information are television and magazine advertisements, according to searchforhealth.net.
Google, Yahoo, MSN and ASK are the main search engines used to locate information. Health care specialty search engines such as Healia, Medstory, Fealth, Kosmix and Healthline are not heavily utilized by the general public. The main focuses of patient searches are symptoms, specific diseases, treatments and conditions. At this time, there are relatively few searches directed toward insurance companies, doctors, hospitals and pharmaceutical companies.
Additionally, patients are not yet turning to physician rating systems in large numbers. With the changes coming in health care delivery, such as Accountable Care Organizations (ACO), this may become a moot point anyway, with physicians available to patients limited to their specific ACOs.
Direct Marketing Campaigns
The pharmaceutical industry has been the primary source of direct marketing campaigns since the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) allowed direct marketing to patients nearly 15 years ago. Expenditures are huge. Pharmaceutical promotions have grown from $11.4 billion in 1996 to $29.9 billion in 2005 (N Engl J Med. 2007;357:673-681). Current estimates indicate expenditures in direct marketing are increasing by 20 percent each year.