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Risks and Rewards of Social Media in Health Care

Posted by | 4:43pm on Monday, March 23, 2009

There are still risks involved with putting your content up on a social media site like YouTube, but there are companies in healthcare that are starting to think the benefits greatly outweigh the risks. 

As I have posted previously, there are three big trends that are affecting the rise of social media for health care. More and more, patients and caregivers are seeking information online, and they are turning to social media because they are not only looking for information they need, but also the information they can relate to. They want the “real deal” from other people who have or have had experience with a particular disease state or medication. The key to engaging them and building brand loyalty is listening to what people want and providing them with the information they need. Utilizing social media to connect patients and pharma in a two-way conversation will build a platform for effective exchange of valuable information and support.

However, due to its highly regulated nature, the pharma industry has been hesitant to fully embrace Web 2.0. There are no specific guidelines yet, but the FDA/DDMAC does seem to be closer to defining the environment. In a recent podcast, Jean Ah Kang, special assistant to Tom Abrams at DDMAC, seems to be saying that a pharma company is NOT at risk if a user or “third party” posts a negative comment or adverse effect. There are still risks involved with putting your content up on a social media site like YouTube, but there are companies in healthcare that are starting to think the benefits greatly outweigh the risks.

A rewarding opportunity for many healthcare companies

Abbott, GSK, J&J, and most recently AstraZeneca and Sanofi-Aventis have all launched YouTube channels to reach patients searching for information online. But most noteworthy is the social media initiative around the recent peanut butter and peanut-related Salmonella outbreak.

Following the outbreak, the HHS, FDA and CDC successfully engaged in social media to inform the public about the product recalls and health risks. News traveled fast via blogs, Twitter, social networks, YouTube videos, podcasts and widgets — and likely helped reduce the number of deaths caused by the illness. This is a great example of an agency embracing social media as a channel to effectively help healthcare and provide reliable, important information to those who need it.

But there are risks…

The biggest risk of participating in social media is not posting quality content. e-Patient Dave recently noticed a YouTube video which had multiple flaws and errors — poorly presented data and mispronounced words. But what may be more disconcerting is the fact that the uploader’s information leads you to a website founded by “a respected hematologist/oncologist who treated cancer patients for 30 years”. So this unreliable information came from a doctor? Not only is this irresponsible, but providing misinformation — especially for healthcare — is dangerous.

How pharma can leverage social media

As marketers, we have the responsibility to offer reliable, trustworthy information and support. And fortunately, we are in a unique place within a highly regulated industry to provide accurate information and become a trusted source. By building relationships based on reliable information and trust, we can take advantage of new online opportunities like social media to listen to what patients want and provide them with what they need.

Have you seen other examples of good or bad uses of social media?  Do you think there is a bigger risk in participating or not participating in social media for healthcare?

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About Wendy White

Since founding Siren Interactive in 1999, Wendy has been recognized as a thought leader at the intersection of niche pharma brands, patient empowerment and online marketing. Her vision for how the internet can facilitate interactions and provide crucial information that patients, caregivers and their healthcare providers previously struggled to find has propelled Siren to the forefront of relationship marketing for rare disorder therapies.

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    05 June 2009 at 4:06pm
    [...] we have discussed previously, there are risks and rewards to social media in healthcare. With more and more patients and caregivers seeking ...
  • Email Marketing Goes Social | SIRENSONG
  • http://e-patients.net e-Patient Dave deBronkart

    Hi Wendy. Well heck YEAH, posting misinformation is dangerous.

    As I think you know, I’ve been studying healthcare after hours (what a hobby!) for a year since emerging from my own near-death cancer adventure all in one piece. I myself had no bone to pick – I got good care – so I’m not vengeful, just motivated and concerned and very interested in patient-professional participation. REALLY interested in building a new world of collaboration.

    One factor we face is the misimpressions people have about perfection and imperfection. Some people suggest that modern healthcare is a lie, a sham, a fraud, which I know is certainly not true. (One fool told me chemo’s a fake, and all we need is ionized water.)

    But it really doesn’t help things when an MD posts illiterate things.

    Some people out there (in here? out here?) think, “If the profession wants us to believe we should trust their expertise, why don’t they stomp on stuff like this??”

    Me, I’m not out to squash anything. I want everyone to have the best quality data and the best skills they can. I’m willing to settle for that and just see how things pan out.

    Good post; thanks.

  • http://sirensong.sireninteractive.com Wendy White

    Thanks Dave,

    You are doing such a great service keeping your eye on the e-patient revolution and helping us all understand it’s impact. I agree with you, we don’t want Doctors NOT to post only to post responsibly and transparently.

    What I find interesting is that when you get a community together with enough different viewpoints you get good data. The old command and control idea of filtering ALL information through a “leader” whether it’s a Doctor, Brand Manager, or even a political leader is gone. And that’s not a bad thing, we can all have better outcomes with better communications in community.

    Keep up the good work.

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