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Healthcare companies still don't "Get" Social Media

"Social media is changing the nature of healthcare interaction, and health organizations that ignore this virtual environment may be missing opportunities to engage consumers."

That was the very ominous and foreboding opening line from a press release announcing the findings of a report done by the Health Research Institute (HRI) at PwC US.

Anytime I see the words "engage" and "missing" I am automatically intrigued because as we all know it's all about engagement: how to get engaged with your customers, how to stay engaged with your customers and how to ensure they stay engaged with you.

The report compared the social media activity of hospitals, pharma companies and health insurers to that of community sites and as you can see there is no comparison as community sites had 24 times more social media activity than corporate sites.


This is very significant as the report aptly points out in that it has serious implications for "businesses looking to capitalize on social media opportunities."

The report also includes findings from an HRI social media survey of more than 1,000 U.S. consumers and 124 members of the eHealth Initiative and include the following results:


  • One-third of consumers now use social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and online forums for health-related matters, including seeking medical information, tracking and sharing symptoms, and broadcasting how they feel about doctors, drugs, treatments, medical devices and health plans.
  • Four in 10 consumers say they have used social media to find health-related consumer reviews (e.g. of treatments or physicians); one in three have sought information related to other patients' experiences with their disease; one in four have "posted" about their health experience; and one in five have joined a health forum or community.
  • When asked how information found through social media would affect their health decisions, 45 percent of consumers said it would affect their decision to get a second opinion; 41 percent said it would affect their choice of a specific doctor, hospital or medical facility; 34 percent said it would affect their decision about taking a certain medication; and 32 percent said it would affect their choice of a health insurance plan.
  • While 72 percent of consumers said they would appreciate assistance in scheduling doctor appointments through social media channels, nearly half said they would expect a response within a few hours.
  • As is the case more broadly, young adults are leading the social media healthcare charge. More than 80 percent of individuals between the ages of 18 and 24 said they were likely to share health information through social media channels and nearly 90 percent said they would trust information they found there. By comparison, less than half (45 percent) of individuals between the ages of 45 and 64 said they were likely to share health information via social media

What Does It All Mean?

Well I am glad you asked...

What it all means, as the chart below demonstrates so well, is there is a golden opportunity for the hospitals, pharma companies and health insurers of the world to engage with their customers and prospects.

I realize the hospitals, pharma companies and health insurers of the world are very reticent to engage via social media for fear of all the rules and regulations that govern their every move but... at the very least you can engage people at a high level, yes?


Sources: PR Newswire, Health Research Institute at PwC

Named one of the Top 100 Influencers In Social Media (#41) by Social Technology Review, Steve Olenski is a freelance writer/blogger currently looking for full-time work. He has worked on some of the biggest brands in the world and has over 20 years experience in advertising and marketing. He lives in Philly and can be reached via email,TwitterLinkedIn or his website.

Join The Conversation

  • GregCherry's picture
    May 7 Posted 5 years ago GregCherry

    I agree with eDaddy.  Not sure if it is in the best interest of a lot of these companies to take part in the social conversation  -  especially with the profits that some of these groups are enjoying.  Probably doesn't benefit them much to be active in social media, or at least they will find it hard to see the postives in a cost analysis.  Besides, healthcare industry is notoriously slow for adjusting to technology trends  (see EHR's)

  • Dave Young's picture
    May 4 Posted 5 years ago Dave Young

    One problem is that information seldom flows out of a healthcare organization from the mouths of people who actually know anything about healthcare. It's usually marketing departments.

    If these companies would actually do something to get their real experts blogging, they could take strides to endear themselves to the public instead of looking at the public as so many sheep to shear.

    The problem is that most of the "experts" simply don't have the time to do the kind of engagement that is required in a successful social media initiative.

    At Shortcut Blogging, we've developed a way to get content out of the experts in a very efficient manner. Once you have it, the marketing wonks can parcel it out in company tweets and facebook pages. People want solid information from people who actually know what they're talking about.

  • May 4 Posted 5 years ago BrianGeyser

    I agree with Steve that, in general, healthcare companies are way behind other industries when it comes to social.

    However, there are plenty of examples of healthcare organizations leveraging social media to advance their mission and business objectives. Perhaps the best examples are the children's hospitals.

    Children's Hospital Boston, despite being a covered entity under HIPAA, has a very engaged online community and they use multiple channels to effectively reach out to and communicate with their pretty massive fan base (709K on Facebook alone at last count).

    Even home care and long-term care providers are beginning to show some small progress in the social realm.

    That said, part of the challenge for healthcare organizations is man power and lack of skill sets. These companies are so busy managing operations, payment issues, insurance nightmares and patient care in the real world that they often can't figure out how to find the time to allocate to the virtual world (which can be very time consuming). Additionally, I find that most people in healthcare simply don't possess the skills or knowlege to translate what they do in the real world to the virtual world. I think its slowly changing, but we've got a long way to go.

  • May 4 Posted 5 years ago EdwinEntrop

    I like the article and I agree with the message. However, in the last sentence the writer suggests 'engaging at a high level' as a solution to avoid getting trapped in all of the rules and regulations for pharmaceutical companies.

    Does anyone have suggestions as to what kind of high level engagement?



  • May 3 Posted 5 years ago RobFitzgibbon

    Maybe it's a good thing that healthcare don't "get" social media - or a least haven't fully gulped down the hype.


    In the United States, electronic health care records are subject to the federal Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act. See

    In 2009 Congress adopted additional regulations regarding the electronic transmission of patient data in the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act. See


    Lori Andrews, author of the book "I Know Who You Are and I Saw What You Did: Social Networks and the Death of Privacy" provides several examples of the vulnerability of healthcare data, citing in particular a case in which a data aggregator posed as a patient on a popular healthcare social media site in order to scrape (steal?) data on the members. See


    Steve - hypothetical question: would you really want your FB friends or your clients to know about your prescriptions for cialis or ambien?




  • rebeccacaroe's picture
    May 3 Posted 5 years ago rebeccacaroe

    Lewis, you guys lead the industry and thanks for commenting on this point.  Let's face it you'll never please everyone all the time.  I think just being there and listening in social media channels is a great start.


    The challenge for organisations providing healthcare is to decide whether to enable healthcare professionals to listen into these channels as well as marketing and customer services teams.


    I am working with a brand, who are creating a patient-centred community care record so that people living with chronic disease in their homes can collate and share health information and wellbeing with their care team and family.  We are finding that insurers like this for two reasons

    1 - they can quickly assess new applicants for pre-existing conditions by looking at their pharmacy dispensing data

    2 - they can cut response times to trigger events by automating alerts based on critical readings (blood pressure, blood sugar etc) and so save ER admissions and anticipate problems before they become critical, thus saving money.

     Thanks for writing this article, it's very helpful to see what the outside world thinks of our industry.


  • Lewis Bertolucci's picture
    May 3 Posted 5 years ago Lewis Bertolucci

    I lead the Enterprise social media team at Humana and though the health insurance industry does lag with social media adoption, we're (or at least our organization) views social as a big opportunity. Sure, there will be many customer care inquiries on our owned sites, but it also opens the door of opportunity to service our members and prospects on the channels they communicate in on a day to day basis. We've seen many detractors and frustrated consumers turn into promoters based on our ability to meet them with where they're at and communicating to them there.

    Every organization has their fair share of customer complaints / service issues and though we strive for creating the best experience possible, we know it's nearly impossible to reach 100% satisfaction. However, we can try and we do exactly that. We're still learning, growing and evolving, but the opportunity is there. People are talking about our Brand regardless... whether we choose to engage with them and help change their perception or experience, is up to us. 

    Feel free to search Humana on Facebook to take a look at where we're at today. Still in the infancy stage, but we're learning and quickly evolving to meet consumer needs quickly.

  • Apr 27 Posted 5 years ago EDaddy

    If health insurers got on social media they'd be shouted down and tormented by the masses - and deservedly so. Do you know a single person who is satisfied, happy or has any positive feelings whatsoever about their health insurance provider?!? Not a one! It be social media pages filled with irate customer comments...Oxford and the others would not be able to handle the firestorm of negative comments they'd be inundated with. Big pharma could easily find themselves in the same quagmire...


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