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The Evolution of Social Media in Health Care

  
  
  

From the patients to the providers, it’s now impossible to ignore the growing role of socialfacebook logo in doctors pocket media in the health care industry. It has stealthily crept its way into the marketing efforts of health care. Making appearances not only in innovative start-up companies, but also to online patient communities and medical centers.

Patients can now connect with each other in mainline communities and condition specific networks. Hospitals and providers can use social media for marketing and patient engagement and patient health records can now be shared and converged more easily online. With all the benefits that social media can provide for the health care community and its patients, don’t be surprised if your clients ask you about communicating on social networks before their next visit.

Online patient communities are by far the fastest growing facets of the social media health culture. One example is the site PatientsLikeMe, which now has over 1,000 conditions in its stored repertoire. PatientsLikeMe has even published a recent study of theirs in the Epilepsy and Behavior medical journal, which further validates the contributions social networks can make to medicine and the health industry. In Susannah Fox’s 2011 report from Pew Internet on “Peer to Peer Healthcare”, her survey results show the widespread use of social media by those with chronic conditions and a current trend toward routinely reaching out to others through social networks for advice on managing illness. These results are significant because they offer more qualitative corroboration that patients are habitually reaching out to others to gain insight on their conditions.

With patients now stepping out on their own to seek guidance in online communities, hospitals and health providers are slowly moving beyond their initial, and somewhat reluctant, experimentation with social media and beginning to integrate the tools offered by it into their marketing and patient engagement efforts. Earlier on, there were many questions being raised about the ethics of connecting hospitals and providers with patients online and what the abuses and misuses could be. But now many hospitals have launched blogs or Facebook pages, such as Boston Children's Hospital, who embraced social media and created a well-run Facebook page that updates their followers on events and media attention as well as create two-way communication between parents and patients on their page. Even beyond individual exploits in social media, whole conferences specific to social media in health care have been popping up around the world, examples including the Ragan Conference with Mayo Clinic and several European conferences.

And now even pharmaceutical companies can hop on board the social media trend. Pharma was delayed in joining social media because of the controversy around how the FDA views social media use in the pharmaceuticals industry. But in December 2011 the FDA finally published guidelines, although broad in nature, about how pharmaceutical companies can go about navigating social media networks.

The newest innovation in social media outlets has been the explosion of mobile apps as the primary method of social media communication. Health monitoring with smartphones is becoming the newest way for those interested in maintaining and managing chronic conditions. Most health apps now have a social media component and it is expected that these apps will soon enable health care providers and patients to connect in unique ways.

Although there are some ethical concerns about privacy and misinformation in the realm of social media health outlets, they are unlikely to hinder the already established wave of conversation and innovation about the relationship between social media and health care. With the growing number of platforms in which social media can impact health care, the assumption can be made that as time goes on, there will continue to be new integration between patients and providers online.

For the more in-depth article regarding the social media's evolution into health care, check out John Sharp's article on ihealthbeat.org.

To find out more about creating your own social media health care platforms, look below!

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