Social Media and Healthcare
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5 Ways Healthcare Professionals Are Using Social Media

5 Ways Healthcare Professionals Are Using Social Media | Social Media and Healthcare |

In 2017, social media plays a very integral role in our personal lives.  Seldom a day goes by that we are not on our smartphones documenting the noteworthy (and sometimes less than noteworthy) happenings of the day.  Social media not only connects us as individuals, but also as businesses.  New effective ways of utilizing social media for business are always surfacing.

In the healthcare industry specifically, there are several reasons why healthcare managers are choosing to incorporate social media into their marketing strategies.  Here are 5 noteworthy ways your practice can use social media.

Share Information

Social media allows healthcare professionals to better share information that is important to their patients.  This can range from health tips to their take on the latest current studies in their field of expertise.  New doctors can be introduced and questions can be answered.  Practices can connect with their patients on a more personal level.

Gain Brand Ambassadors

Speaking of connecting with patients on a more personal level, by doing so, your practice may gain some “brand ambassadors.” If a patient feels a doctor or practice cares enough to offer them helpful tips or even reach out to them in a more personal way (by liking comments, answering questions, etc), they will be more likely to refer friends and family or simply share with their social networks the latest treatment they received at your office. Ultimately, customer service is important no matter the industry.

Real Time Updates

One of the great things about social media is that information can be shared immediately.  Use this to your advantage.  If you work at a hospital, give real time updates on hospital capacity. Do you have extra appointment availability? Share this info with your patients.  You never know who might be looking for a last-minute appointment.

Competitive Analysis

Social media provides an easy way to check out your competitors. Take a look at their profiles. See what kinds of information they are sharing. Find out what kind of content their patients are commenting on.  This can only help your practice improve the quality of your social media presence as well as offer higher patient satisfaction.

Connect with Other Doctors

Using social media for professional purposes is also very common and useful.  Connect with specialists in different fields.  These kinds of professional relationships can help with referral business in the future.

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Social Media and Healthcare
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Relevant to Healthcare Practitioners, Pharma', Insurance, Clinicians, Labs, Health IT Vendors, Health Marketeers, Health Policy Makers, Hospital Administrators.
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Social Media Implementation Checklist

Social Media Implementation Checklist | Social Media and Healthcare |

Set goals first. If traffic, leads and sales are part of the goal, then gotta have the next focus be on content creation. Then, using social to share. Can't get much value out of social unless you're actively creating, publishing and sharing content. 

MARGARITA's curator insight, December 31, 2015 5:15 PM

Support our people

United Home Healthcare's curator insight, June 12, 12:29 PM
Being active on Social media can really help your company.
rob halkes's curator insight, September 15, 6:04 AM

You might think that after 10+ years, social media for healthcare is a self evident activity,! Nothing is less true, however ;-) But here's a checklist you need if you still need to sign up ;-) 


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And here’s how internet & social media has transformed healthcare -

And here’s how internet & social media has transformed healthcare - | Social Media and Healthcare |

You suddenly wake up in the middle of the night with a sore throat and try to shake off the feeling with lots of water. But what if the issue persists even after a few hours? Surely you won’t rush to the doctor but the first approach would be the internet. Nowadays, anyone with a computer and internet has the benefit of getting connected with healthcare experts anytime, anywhere for simple to complex issues.

They may choose a video call doctor’s app on the smart device for online consultation and pay the fee with convenience of electronic transaction. In today’s connected world, social media and internet are game changers for almost any industry including healthcare. Let’s have a look at how the two changed the medical niche for the best of both doctors and patients!

Medical experts & facilities are riding the social media bandwagon

More and more medical professionals are embracing social media for sharing critical information and providing patient care at hand. A survey conducted over a thousand patients and around a hundred healthcare executives revealed that utilising social media and the web are the rage.

Some of the most trusted and globally accepted medical resources are providing online services with almost 60-percent expert doctors, 55-percent hospitals and 56-percent nurses partaking in the campaign.

Social media is being utilised more and more by healthcare facilities and professionals as a means to convey general information and even personalised patient care through a smart video call doctor’s app. Even marketing specialists voted in favour of social media as a great means to emphasise those in need of immediate medical care thereby going beyond the simple healthcare news sharing.

Although, hospitals do receive private messages from patients inquiring about specific health issues, queries aren’t publicly posted on social media platforms but a professional and personalised approach is taken for the treatment.

With all the benefits, there’s also a high potential of misinformation over the internet as identified by many healthcare experts bearing years of experience in the field. You can’t simply trust everything you read online due to which personalised approach us the best approach provided by innovative digital solutions and a video call doctor’s app is simplest example.

Challenges to the digital healthcare

One of the biggest downside of internet-based doctors is managing their private clinics and treating sensitive ailments associated to physical and mental anomalies. Excess social relations between a doctor and patients may undermine healthcare staff, discourage medical operations of institutions and can also jeopardise reputation as well as treatment. This is the reason medical apps are considered a better approach due to personalised treatment.

In fact, the Wall Street Journal mentioned that around 35-percent physicians received friends request from Facebook, Twitter and other platforms however, most have been rejected thereby maintaining a professional relationship and overall reputation.

However, medical experts have different views and opinions about digital healthcare services. Some doctors totally avoid such platforms and make themselves engaged with patients alongside medical staff such as assistants and nurses while others are open to social media serving patients on the go anytime, anywhere.

Online therapy/Virtual sessions

Researchers at the University of Sydney studied effectiveness of internet-based Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (iCBT); a free programme for the treatment of various anxieties and depression! The results highly favoured the programme in relieving mild to moderate depression and cardiovascular anomalies alongside many different physical ailments guided through a video call doctor’s app.

Doctor Internet; at your service

Another report concluded that every one-in-three American adults use the internet to diagnose certain medical issues. The accuracy of medical information being accessed is a mix of accuracy and uncertainty depending on patient’s approach and anomaly. Highly complex issues are best treated the traditional way that is by visiting actual facilities.


All in all, digital healthcare is the future of medical industry and adapting the technology is crucial for survival as well as maintain brand reputation.

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HEALTHCARE 2.0: WHAT CAN DIGITAL DO FOR YOU?  | Social Media and Healthcare |

Health professionals have taken particular interest in the internet trend as more practices begin to implement tools that will effectively improve doctor-patient engagement and interaction. Digital is a primary influence guiding patient choices and the patient journey starts with searching the web.  According to Google’s Digital Journey to Wellness study, 77 percent of patients use search engines prior to booking appointments.

Google partnered with Compete, Inc. and fielded over 500 hospital researchers to understand what influences hospital selection and what role digital plays in the journey. Digital marketing content was the key decision-making influence when patients booked appointments. 

Patients response data concludes digital content is indispensable. In fact, with 77% of users using search before they book an appointment, patient web searches drive three times as many valuable visitors than other traffic sources. What does that mean for healthcare providers? A strong online presence and positive reputation is critical, and generates conclusive patient leads.

Patient’s love digital and in the digital world– content is king.  Eighty five percent of patients booking appointments said digital content was the primary factor that influenced their decision making. Paid search ads, social media and quality search engine optimization are vastly influential as well, generating unique search paths that lead to valuable patient-doctor outcomes.  Online videos and blogs also play a pivotal part in patient engagement.  

Healthcare Industries, as well as other industries, have seen how the digital world has evolved to what it is today. With ever-changing digital platforms, it is important to keep your patients in mind through their digital journey. From website optimization to social media management, more and more patients are depending on the web to choose Hospitals, Specialists, and treatment centers.


For more insight, research and trends about the digital impact on healthcare industries, you can join us on October 18th 2017 for a live-stream event partnered with Google. During this event, specialist from Google will be taking a deep dive into digital marketing for Healthcare and Insurance Industries.

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How St. Jude Children's Research Hospital Uses Instagram to Make Science Fun

How St. Jude Children's Research Hospital Uses Instagram to Make Science Fun | Social Media and Healthcare |

For Carrie Strehlau, turning a complex subject into an engaging story is part of her everyday challenge.

Carrie Strehlau, Senior Social Media Specialist, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital

After working on the media relations team at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital for 13 years, Strehlau was appointed to the first social media position created at the hospital, and has since established St. Jude on five social media channels.

One of the unique aspects of Strehlau’s job is that people know and recognize the St. Jude brand, but are not familiar with the science and research that happens at the hospital. Using Instagram Stories, Strehlau has been able to feature doctors, researchers, therapists and more in easily-digestible and interesting ways.

Strehlau—who will discuss Instagram Stories at The Digital PR & Marketing Summit Oct. 17-19 in Miami—shared some of the tactics she uses to feature St. Jude’s research and employees on Instagram Stories. 

PR News: How has your social media strategy at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital changed over the past six months?

Strehlau: Social media that’s solely focused on the science and medicine at St. Jude is fairly new to the institution. We’ve been building this specialized social media focus in large part with help from hospital employees. Throughout the past year, we’ve seen an increase in our employees not only engaging on the platforms but also presenting ideas to us on how social media can be integrated into their programs, projects and more. While our overall strategy hasn’t necessarily changed based on that, we have had to adjust to more departments inquiring about social media while continuing to build and adjust the social media foundation.

PR News: What are some of the biggest pros and cons of using Instagram Stories?

Strehlau: The Instagram Stories platform is easy to navigate and provides ample opportunities to enhance photos and videos. It’s immediate and short-lived, so we want the audience to feel like they don’t want to miss what we’ve posted. It also provides us an opportunity to be a little less formal and “buttoned-up” when it comes to promoting research papers and conference presentations. A con is that the Stories do disappear soon.

PR News: Do you think using Instagram Stories can work for an organization of any size? Why or why not?

Strehlau: Any organization of any size could and should use Instagram Stories. They’re snippets of time that give the audience a close-up feel like they’re there along the journey with you. It provides a casual, behind-the-scenes, unscripted version of the story our other social media followers might not see.

Learn more from Carrie Strehlau at The Digital PR & Marketing Summit, Oct. 17-19 in Miami. Brand communicators from The Hershey Company, Reebok, Burger King, Royal Caribbean Cruises and many more will speak on topics ranging from influencer marketing to Facebook ads to Snapchat strategy and more.

PR News: Can you briefly describe the timeline of planning that goes into your Instagram Stories?

Strehlau: In the world of public relations and social media, you have to be flexible. Even within an industry that is highly regulated like ours, which is an academic, research and clinical environment. We often have to plan around privacy policies, unpublished data, proprietary knowledge. While some projects allow for pre-planning, we’ve found that many of our Instagram Stories have been spur-of-the-moment opportunities. For our audience—most of whom will never have to come to St. Jude—it gives them a sense of being at the hospital with us.

PR News: How do you calculate the success of a particular Instagram Story?

Strehlau: Our audience is growing, so we look at the number of viewers but don’t rely on a large number to deem an Instagram Story successful, especially since we have such a targeted audience—those who are interested in our research and clinical care. We also follow-up with employees to share the numbers, which might encourage them to share more content in the future. Having an established researcher come to us with an Instagram Story idea because he or she just had a paper published in Nature or is presenting at ASCO—that’s success to us.

PR News: What do you hope attendees at The Digital PR & Marketing Summit will take away from your session on Oct. 18?

Strehlau: Try new things and ways of storytelling with Instagram Stories. Get employees engaged on Instagram and encourage them to provide sharable content. Don’t be so focused on the numbers; have fun, produce great content and the audience will come. Use the platform to showcase, in a different way, a topic you might’ve posted on another platform.

Connect with Carrie: @CarrieRockChick

Connect with Samantha: @samantha_c_wood

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4 steps to reduce a hospital social media crisis

4 steps to reduce a hospital social media crisis | Social Media and Healthcare |

A report from Altimeter Group says social media crises are on the rise. But with proper preparation, you can avoid them.

This is good news for hospital CEOs who view social media as a potential disaster waiting to happen. The report lists what organizations—including hospitals—can do to prepare.

Altimeter defines a social media crisis as "a crisis issue that arises in or is amplified by social media and results in negative mainstream media coverage, a change in business processes, or financial loss." The group conducted online surveys and interviews with more than 200 social business program managers, corporate practitioners, and social business software, service and solutions providers.

The group analyzed more than 50 social media crises since 2001.

Here are four steps you can take to reduce the risk of a social media crisis.

Clear social media policy

Establish and reinforce a corporate social media policy that sets clear standards and allows employees to participate professionally. Even if your hospital isn't engaging on social media, it's still important. Employees appreciate having clear social media guidelines. And remember to review these policies at least annually to keep up-to-date.

Solid resources

Make sure you have the staff in place to respond quickly to patients and families in social media. Don't let a problem fester for hours before responding.

Ongoing education

Foster a culture of learning through ongoing social media education. The digital world is changing so rapidly, it's smart to schedule social media education at least twice a year.

Centralized response

Develop an organized, centralized response to social media. Make sure someone is in charge, and that communication between all parties is easy and seamless.

Interestingly, these same points can be applied directly to helping in times of community crisis. During tornadoes, hurricanes, fire and earthquakes, hospitals that have been prepared have been able to use social media to communicate emergency messages to their communities.

Dan Hinmon is the principal at Hive Strategies. You can read the Hive Strategies blog here.

(Image via)

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Millennials, social media and clinical trials -

Millennials, social media and clinical trials - | Social Media and Healthcare |

When recruiting for a clinical trial, social media can be effectively harnessed to target millennial audiences by considering three key factors. 


The first and most important of these factors is content. Millennials enjoy, respond to and share articles that are highly informative, with any “pitch” regarding the trial itself kept on the down-low rather than front and center. In an article intended for a millennial audience, the reference to the trial should be just one component of a cluster of related information that is being offered in the spirit of free knowledge. Such articles need to address not only the patients potentially qualified to enroll in the trial, but also—to maximize success—should be written in such a way that potential patients’ family and friends feel compelled to share the information with them as well. 

The second factor concerns how messaging about a trial is distributed to the appropriate audiences. An article that runs on a relatively small website with a passionate following can be far more effective than the same article placed on a relatively well-known website with tons of links and a much broader readership with more disparate interests. The key to success in this regard involves careful strategic targeting to the best audience—not necessarily the biggest.

The third and final factor pertains to individual outreach. Specifically, this involves taking the time to search for and identify the individuals with an online presence whom millennials are listening to: the advocates and influencers of this generation.  Once these influencers have been identified, they should be individually tagged on social media, with a link to the announcement of the trial and an offer of an interview. This strategy can go a long way toward maximizing social media’s impact on more effective, better targeted, rapid and accurate patient recruitment.


Guest Contributor Dian Griesel, Ph.D., is president of DGI Comm, a strategic visibility public relations firm.

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Ethically Navigating Organ Donation Through Social Media

Ethically Navigating Organ Donation Through Social Media | Social Media and Healthcare |

Ethical regulations regarding the use of social media for public and patient communication about organ transplantation and living donation are reported in the American Journal of Transplantation.1

The various social media communities around living donations have grown without either ethical or legal oversight, even though transplantation is one of the most complexly regulated health care areas. Macey Henderson, JD, PhD, from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and colleagues created the framework for transplant stakeholders to ethically navigate organ donation through social media.

Because of rapid social media and news coverage about organ donation, it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain recipient and donor privacy. Transplant candidates and potential living donors should be advised not to post personal phone numbers, personal email addresses, residential addresses, family information, or other sensitive information on social media.


The recommendations also address the increased concerns about the autonomy and quality of care for transplant candidates and potential donors. The authors provide suggestions for different audiences: transplant hospitals, transplant candidates, living donors, and transplant professional societies. They address privacy and confidentiality, truthfulness and veracity, informed consent, education, undue influence, coercion, micro allocation, and equity issues.

Such an ethical framework is intended to address the challenges brought about by social media, with their lower barrier to entry,2,3 greater power to disseminate a message, and blurring of the usual definitions of community and relationships.

The autuors add that additional educational interventions should be developed to improve how transplant candidates develop social media profiles. Additional research should explore the impact of frequent social media use on the mental health of living donors, transplant candidates, and recipients.


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Social media feedback can identify high risk hospitals

Social media feedback can identify high risk hospitals | Social Media and Healthcare |

Online patient feedback, including Twitter and Facebook posts, can provide accurate near real-time representations of the quality of care in NHS hospitals – thereby identifying high risk hospitals in need of inspection.  

These are the findings of a new study by researchers from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) published today (29 September) in the BMJ Quality & Safety.

The researchers developed and tested algorithms that can reliably read and synthesise thousands of patient comments posted every day on platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and NHS Choices. Remarkably, when tested, the synthesised data was shown to effectively predict the outcome of hospital inspections by the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

At a time when the CQC is facing significant budget cuts and needs to focus its resources, this system could be used to highlight the hospitals most likely to be performing poorly and flag them for inspection.

Following the tragic events at the Mid-Staffordshire Trust in the late 2000s where an estimated 400-1200 patients died unnecessarily, there have been widespread calls to make better use of patient feedback in addition to traditional performance indicators which were slow to identify the unacceptable levels of care.

The study’s authors believe the near real-time information captured by their system offers hospitals and regulators a much quicker insight into their performance than existing surveys and official data collections.

Dr Alex Griffiths, a researcher at LSE’s Centre for Analysis of Risk and Regulation and one of the study’s authors, said: “The use of automated, near real-time patient feedback provides an opportunity not only to spot and rectify declining standards of care before they become too serious, but also to quickly identify improvements in care and learn what is behind them.”

“Aggregating comments from multiple sources allows us to gain insight from different demographics helping to reduce the obvious problem of bias that comes with using a single source of information, such as Twitter. Moreover, it gives us an understanding of aspects of care not captured by existing surveys, such as interactions between staff and carers at multiple points along care pathways, and often at a more granular level.”

The study’s authors are currently in discussion with the Care Quality Commission, the independent regulator of health and social care in England, over how the system may be used to help prioritise their inspections.

Dr Alex Griffiths and Meghan Leaver are respectively members of the Centre for Analysis of Risk and Regulation (CARR) and Department of Psychological and Behavioural Science at LSE.

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How Effective Digital Marketing Can Enhance the Patient Journey 

How Effective Digital Marketing Can Enhance the Patient Journey  | Social Media and Healthcare |

With more and more customers using online sources to obtain information about their health, traditional healthcare marketing tactics are no longer as effective as they once were.

In fact, studies have shown one in twenty Google searches are around health-related information. If marketers want to successfully reach and engage healthcare customers today, they need to leverage digital marketing.

Targeting the right patients with relevant and useful information through online communication channels is possible with dynamic healthcare digital marketing strategies like social media, search engine, and email marketing. With the help of these digital tactics, healthcare marketers can create online campaigns and optimize in real time to improve customer and patient care experiences.

Let’s review how digital marketing can enhance the customer and patient journey:

What Is the Customer and Patient Journey?

Customers and patients follow a multi-stage journey as they interact with healthcare organizations, from pre-clinical to post-clinical stages. The journey begins with the first interaction between a customer and healthcare organization and continues until an ongoing relationship forms between the patient and provider. Every interaction in between is a step along the journey.

This journey is not a linear path and takes more of a unique shape. In this case, we like to think of it as a tree with many stemming branches rather than a straight road.

Below are the typical stages an individual follows on their care journey:

  • Awareness: A potential customer assesses symptoms and conducts research
  • Help: The customer’s initial contact with the health system, usually online or through a call center
  • Care: The customer becomes a patient
  • Treatment: The patient receives on-site follow-up care
  • Behavioral and Lifestyle Change: The patient makes recommended lifestyle or behavioral changes
  • Ongoing Care and Proactive Health: The patient adopts proactive health strategies

Throughout the various customer and patient journey stages, digital marketing tactics can be used to enhance their experiences. Let’s take a closer look to see which digital tactics are most successful to engage customers and patients throughout the care journey.


Pre-Clinical Digital Marketing Strategies for the Customer Journey

The entire care journey stems from the point at which a potential customer identifies a health issue. During the awareness stage, they begin researching their condition, typically by searching the Internet or looking on social media for answers. Transitioning into the help stage, the customer may contact the call center or attend a workshop before scheduling an appointment and entering the care stage.

While customers are involved in the initial journey phases, healthcare marketers can take advantage of search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) to increase visibility for keywords and phrases that relevant consumers search for online. Healthcare marketers can develop data-backed advertisements, optimize website content, and create useful blog content to reach target audiences as they search for core keywords and ultimately increase awareness.

In addition, healthcare marketers can take advantage of social media platforms to reach customers either organically or through paid advertising. It is important to note that information available on social media can have a direct influence on prospects’ decisions to seek a second opinion or choose a specific provider, particularly for people who are coping with a chronic condition or managing their diet, exercise, or stress.

For example, Children’s Mercy Hospital uses their Facebook page as way to showcase their reputation as a renowned care center. “Locally, Children’s Mercy wants parents to know their kids are in good hands. Social is a good way to share news and feature CMH doctors and patients,” according to PR Director Jake Jacobson. This sort of social strategy can be an effective one – a recent study found 57 percent of consumers’ decisions to receive treatment at a healthcare facility are strongly influenced by that provider’s social media connections, showing that patients trust health organizations with a social presence.

Another way to reach customers online is through online patient forums and research networks, such as Patients Like Me. Potential customers often use these resources to interact with others struggling with similar conditions by participating in discussions and sharing experiences. Healthcare marketers can productively utilize these platforms to engage in real time by answering questions, connecting people with physicians, and building relationships between prospects and health systems.

Once a customer makes an inquiry, downloads a guide, or books an appointment, healthcare marketers should employ email nurturing to keep them engaged and satisfied until the point of care. With automatic reminders leading up to the appointment, customers are less likely to drop out of the clinical process. Hospital marketers can also push the call center as a resource to have pertinent questions answered before coming in.

After a customers’ first appointment, healthcare marketers should continue deploying digital tactics to ensure patients stay connected with the healthcare organization moving into the future.

Post-Clinical Digital Marketing Strategies for the Patient Journey

Once the customer officially becomes a patient, they enter the patient journey stages, including treatment, behavioral and lifestyle change, and ongoing care and proactive health. Like the pre-clinical stages, these steps on the journey can also be enhanced with digital marketing. The goal during these stages is to ensure the customer receives relevant health information that keeps the healthcare organization top of mind. Ideally, the health system then becomes the de facto choice the next time a health issue arises.

Further digital outreach in the post-clinical stages can be done via email or patient portal, and may include medication or follow-up appointment reminders, satisfaction surveys, or answers to any questions. Healthcare marketers should also send any relevant informational material to help the customer make the lifestyle changes their physicians requested, such as regular exercise or long-term medications.

Using social media, healthcare marketers are able to promote ongoing health for patients and keep them informed of health trends, upcoming events, and crises they should be aware of. Lee Aase of Mayo Clinic and Shannon Dosemagen of Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science emphasize that healthcare “organizations can use social media to distribute time-sensitive health information, promote information sharing to encourage behavioral changes (including corrective changes during potential health crises), be a platform for conversation between agencies and constituents (rather than just as an information provider), and allow the public to provide useful information and feedback.”

In the post-clinical patient journey stages, healthcare marketers can use digital marketing tactics to foster proactive health and boost long-term care outcomes.

Final Thoughts

Customers and patients have higher expectations than ever before for the care and service they receive from healthcare providers. Healthcare marketers can optimize digital marketing tactics based on each stage of the customer and patient journey to improve the care experience and promote long-term health.

Engaging at all stages of the journey delights customers and encourages loyalty, which can have a tremendous impact on revenue: a Deloitte study found that hospitals with “excellent” HCAHPS patient ratings had a net margin of 4.7 percent, on average, as compared to just 1.8 percent for hospitals with “low” ratings. Thus, it is essential that healthcare organizations place importance on creating optimized customer and patient journeys with digital marketing tactics.

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Social Media and Multiple Sclerosis in the Posttruth Age

Social Media and Multiple Sclerosis in the Posttruth Age | Social Media and Healthcare |

Many patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) have expressed a need for more information and support [1,2]. The Internet is now an important source of health and medical information and its accessibility often makes it the first step in obtaining information about diseases and their treatment. Patients with MS, their families, and/or caregivers use the Web in everyday life as a source of medical information and to interact with others who are living with the same condition [3-5]. The Web can also be a source of comfort and support through the exchange of experiences, opinions, and emotions [6]. Patients and caregivers can find a wide range of opportunities for peer interactions and learning online. However, we need to differentiate between the various levels of validity and objectivity of the information that they might find online.

A group of neurologists, psychologists, anthropologists, science journalists, and legal authorities met in Naples, Italy, in November 2016 during the Social Media and Multiple Sclerosis (SMMS): Communities of Practice meeting. They discussed Internet usage by MS patients seeking health- and disease-related information for self-care and self-management purposes in the “posttruth” age. In this paper, we stress the need to provide patients and their caregivers with tools for prudent and productive Web navigating [7] and ensure that they can find and share valid information through their social media interactions.

Entering a few keywords into a search engine returns a huge number of hits; however, it is critical that patients and caregivers be able to recognize information that is potentially incorrect or only partially correct. The ranking that a search engine assigns to search results is determined by algorithms inherent to the program and may be based on the number of site interactions or the number of times that a site is linked or referenced. Thus, the choice of a Web search engine also influences the retrieved results [8].

Internet users should know that there are people or groups interested in spreading information that is not based on scientific evidence. Users should also be able to recognize links to sponsored content. Moreover, they should understand that queries made through a search engine are not as “independent” as they might think: results are influenced by stored information about previous searches performed on the computer. Authoritative information sources are preferred, such as scientific foundations and national and international scientific societies.

An early assessment of the quality of online medical information conducted in 1997 on pediatric fever revealed that only one in 10 websites provided complete and completely accurate information [9]. Subsequently, criteria were proposed to standardize the assessment of websites. Two types of criteria were considered: direct and surrogate. Direct criteria, the gold standard for assessing quality, include determining the accuracy and completeness of the information by experts. However, this type of verification is difficult to obtain because it involves expert intervention. Surrogate criteria are characteristics that tend to be associated with high-quality information. These include identifying the website owners and sponsors, providing dates for when the information was updated, supporting the information with bibliographic references to literature published in peer-reviewed medical journals, identifying the authors as medical professionals and indicating their affiliations, disclosing any conflicts of interest, and providing links to the websites of disease-related medical or scientific associations [10]; for example, websites could apply the publishing benchmarks from the Journal of the American Medical Association, which consider authorship, date of most recent update, references, and disclosure of conflicts of interest [11].

Meanwhile, several organizations provide website logos, badges, or “seals of approval” to be displayed only on websites that meet specific criteria [12]. The first organization to provide such a service was the nonprofit Health On the Net (HON) Foundation, established in 1995 to promote reliable online health information and to protect citizens from misleading health information [13]. The HON criteria are summarized in their code of conduct (see Textbox 1). Their website provides information and services that are tailored to patients, caregivers, medical professionals, or website developers.

In addition, the HON website provides an Internet search portal—HON Search—through which it is possible to focus search results on medical information that meets quality criteria. This can significantly improve search effectiveness by excluding advertisements and nonrelated websites from the search results. Results can be further filtered for interest to patients and caregivers or to medical professionals. Such guidance may help information seekers avoid some of the pitfalls of searches.

Another important initiative in this area is the DISCERN Project, which is based at the University of Oxford, Division of Public Health and Primary Health Care, Institute of Health Sciences [14]. Project members developed the DISCERN tool [15], which comprises guidelines for analyzing information on treatment choices that are applicable to a wide range of topics by users at many levels (see Textbox 2). The tool provides an index of the quality of medical information that is useful for patients and caregivers, as well as providing guidance to website content developers. The DISCERN website contains a reference guide that should only be used once one is acquainted with the full DISCERN instrument.

We have summarized the minimal requirements of a medical/scientific website into the following schema (see Textbox 3) and suggest that this information should be provided to MS patients and their caregivers.

We also suggest that the patient or caregiver be informed about the existence of HON and the DISCERN initiatives and be encouraged to use these services.

Textbox 1. Summary of the eight components of the Health On the Net Code of Conduct: criteria for obtaining website certification.
Textbox 2. DISCERN Project: summary of characteristics associated with good-quality information about treatment choices.
Textbox 3. Minimal requirements of a medical/scientific website.

Social Media as a Support Tool for People With Multiple Sclerosis and Their Caregivers

An online community or support group allows exchange of experiences and information among group members that may be helpful to patients and caregivers [16-18]. Online communities are characterized by communication that can be synchronous (eg, instant message, chat, and video chat) or asynchronous (eg, forums and blogs). Both forms of communication can be used to give and receive support and to interact with people who are sharing the same life experiences. Social media can also serve as a research tool to collect anonymous information for studying many aspects of the MS patient’s journey [19,20].

We have collected some of the features found in online communities that can be instrumental for meeting the need for support and interaction that a person living with MS may be experiencing:

  1. Public profiles. Communities with open profiles that are visible to everyone help users to find each other easily and to share personal information and experiences related to MS.
  2. Messages. Communities that allow exchange of different types of messages meet the diverse needs of people with MS:
    1. Connections among individual users (ie, chat)
    2. Messages among established contacts (ie, contact lists, friend requests, and private messages)
    3. Peer counseling (ie, people with MS who volunteer their time to help others with MS)
  3. Forum. These are forms of asynchronous interaction and communication that must be moderated to prevent abuses; moderation also serves to avoid the spread of incorrect information. Patients should be encouraged to frequent forums that are moderated by health care professionals.

The following are suggestions for critical reading of content and participation in online discussions in a community, blog, or forum:

The community website must have clear rules of conduct. Each member must carefully read and follow the rules of the community, blog, or forum. To protect the interests of the community members, administrators must deny access to users with interests different from those of the group (ie, spam, advertising, misinformation, or irrelevant information). The presence of moderators in a community should ensure that all members follow the rules. Channels should exist for reporting inappropriate behavior.

Privacy must be protected. Members of the community, blog, or forum should have the option to remain anonymous or share only the personal information they deem appropriate; it is important to remind patients that many threads and posts are open.

The website must share only validated content. Confirm that the content is supported by bibliographic references to scientific evidence that was produced under expert supervision and that the content is updated regularly.

Comments and posts by individuals can provide useful impetus, but it is important that users realize that the personal experiences of others may not apply to their specific situations. They must be able to confirm the information with authoritative sources and discuss it with their physician. Information about MS treatment discussed online may refer to solutions that have not been approved by the regulatory agencies in a patient’s homeland. Patients and caregivers should be encouraged to consult the website of the national MS organization for official information on drugs approved for MS in their country. In addition, they should ask their physician when questions arise. Moreover, it is important to stress at the outset that the relationship between the patient and the clinician is essential for all aspects of diagnosis and clinical management. Online support groups are not a substitute for direct interaction with the clinician. A survey of 8586 patients with MS revealed that, whereas the first source of information for most patients is the Internet, the vast majority of patients with MS still consider their physician to be the most trusted source for medical information [21]. Given the risks associated with improper treatment of MS, health professionals should take measures to ensure that their patients are prepared and equipped to navigate the eHealth world safely.




The authors would like to thank Richard Vernell, biologist and consultant for an external support organization, for data collection.

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10 Steps To Building an Online Reputation For the Dental Practice 

10 Steps To Building an Online Reputation For the Dental Practice  | Social Media and Healthcare |

Have you ever looked up a local business’ reviews prior to using their services? Did the information that you read influence your decision in any way? Patients do that same thing when searching for a new dentist, which is why it’s important that your online reputation is impressive, memorable and inviting.

Social media has become a primary vehicle for marketing any business. Dental practices now use social media to attract new patients and retain them. While attracting and retaining patients, we must maintain relevance for our services and engage the desired audience we want to attract.

Posting quirky photos of office shenanigans might seem fun and lively; although this is accurate, it may not appeal to the type of patient you desire in your practice. Establish a balance between providing levity, dental facts, and engaging, informative content with the information posted. Your online presence must cover all demographics and be geared to your ideal patient. Many dentists have been slow to incorporate social media into their practices because of time and a perceived lack of ROI. 

As a business owner, we must look at social media from a bottom-up approach. What is the outcome you desire and what are the foundational pieces to help you achieve it? What do we need to do in order to get great reviews and ultimately build and protect our internet reputation? What you must realize is that using social media reaches more people than you realize. Here are a few staggering statistics:

  • Facebook has 1.13 billion daily active users. (Statista, 2016)
  • 72 percent of adult internet users use Facebook. (Pew Research Center, 2015)
  • 31 percent of adult internet users use Pinterest. (Pew Research Center, 2015)
  • Pinners are just as likely to purchase as users from other social channels, but spend 50 percent more on average compared to other social channels. They also spend 20 percent more than users referred from non-social channels, including search. (Pinterest, 2016)
  • Pinterest has 100 million monthly active users. (The New York Times, 2015)
  • 91 percent of consumers regularly or occasionally read online reviews
  • 90 percent of consumers read 10 reviews or less before they feel that they can trust a business

This makes managing your online reputation imperative because reviews can send a prospective patient away before they ever even consider making the first phone call.

The best strategy to a great online reputation is to create a great experience from the first interaction and begin asking patients for testimonials. The testimonials can be posted across several social media platform simultaneously. Here are 10 tips for building an impressive online reputation:

  1. Create a social media presence for your business (Facebook®, Twitter®, Instagram®, Pinterest®, LinkedIn®, Google Plus®, Blogger®)
  2. Ensure that your website is up-to-date, listing all social media links
  3. Use a tool that can help manage multiple social media networks with minimal efforts and cost (Hootesuite®, SocialOomph®, Sprout Social®, Everypost®)
  4. Post regularly to the social media platforms during times that your ideal patient will be viewing (schedule the posts accordingly)
  5. Educate on social media platforms about topics that will interest your ideal patient (beverage choices, impact of long term exposure to acids, sleep apnea, etc.)
  6. Monitor feedback and reviews regularly; like and reply in a timely manner
  7. Handle negative feedback immediately in a positive way

As a business owner, you want to avoid getting negative online reviews completely if possible! Let’s be realistic, there will be a time when you get a negative review - it’s bound to happen.

Patients will periodically use the power of social media as a means of “communicating” about their appointment when they are not happy. Responding immediately in a positive manner is the best reaction. Things to remember:

  • Respond with acknowledging the reviewers’ experience, “thank you for providing your feedback. We work very hard to ensure that every patient is served with the best care possible.  Your experience and feedback is very important to us, and we will be contacting you immediately to personally discuss your experience.”
  • Do not engage in conversation through social media about an experience
  • Do not attempt to provide details to defend the practice.
  • Responding with a simple, “We look forward to having the opportunity to discuss your experience” shows that you are open to resolving the issue and you are professionally managing the conversation.
  • If you are unable to contact the patient, you can post that information as well: “we have attempted to contact the reviewer; unfortunately, our attempts have not been successful.”
  • If you reach the patient and resolve the situation, ask the patient to post an update to the review.

An impressive online reputation begins with building the presence, finding a simple way for a member(s) of your team to update/monitor with minimal effort and interacting with your audience in a positive way. For more information, reach out to your Spear Practice Solutions Consultant.  


Local Consumer Review Survey 2016 | The Impact Of Online Reviews. BrightLocal. Accessed September 29, 2017.

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Healthcare: Europe must get ready for the digital revolution now, says EESC

Healthcare: Europe must get ready for the digital revolution now, says EESC | Social Media and Healthcare |

Digital healthcare is around the corner. It will bring a sea change to our health care systems, in principle positive change, provided that a few basic political choices are made at European level before it is too late. This was the main conclusion of an own-initiative opinion entitled Impact of the digital healthcare revolution on health insurance, adopted by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) on 21 September.                                         

The digital revolution will radically change the way healthcare is provided in the next few years from a system based on cure to one focused on participatory, preventive, personalised and even predictive medicine, the so-called "4P medicine". Technology will sweep across the sector and change the way all players work – health professionals, pharmaceutical industries, hospitals, medical research centres, health insurance (such as mutual organisations) and of course citizens. In 5 to 10 years' time diagnoses will be made by machines, allowing doctors to focus on the relationship with their patients. People will be more and more in control of their health, thanks to a wealth of applications and devices providing information about health status. Genome mapping and other major scientific breakthroughs will make people aware of their genetic risks and able to adapt their lifestyles accordingly.

All this is - in principle - good news. Yet there are some potential threats lurking behind this revolution – first and foremost the risk that it may exacerbate social differences and widen the digital divide between those who have access to digital health and those who do not. This is why it is vital to act today to shape the healthcare systems of tomorrow. "Solidarity is the cornerstone of European healthcare systems, whether in old or new Member States. Health must continue to be seen as a common good– a good belonging to the public as a whole", said opinion rapporteur Alain Coheur, director of European and International Affairs at Belgium's National Union of Socialist Mutual Health Funds. "It is important that we retain our national health services and this will only happen if digital technology is used to activate our fundamental rights – the right to information, the right to healthcare: these are the keys to our social welfare systems."

Currently European healthcare systems are based on the pooling of risks and the fact that so far it has been impossible to predict when a risk would become a reality. People pay based on their means and receive according to their needs. This is particularly true of public healthcare. Tomorrow, however, all this could change, especially in private insurance, which is based on risk selection. With predictive medicine, profit-making insurance companies might want to personalise someone's risk profile, for instance on the basis of the likelihood that they will contract cancer in 5 or 10 years' time: "That is why we need to ask ourselves the question: what kind of health system do we want to have in Europe tomorrow?", argued the rapporteur. "Do we want equal access for all European citizens or are we going to go down the road that the USA has taken, where insurance dominates the market and, once you have had two illnesses, you will no longer be covered? If that is not the model we want, we need to state it clearly, because this is what could happen with digitalisation."

Mr Coheur also warned against the danger of transferring too much responsibility to patients as a result of the digital revolution: with all the information made available, they will end up being totally responsible for their own health. "That may be a valid objective, but we can't possibly be in charge of all the things that contribute to our health. There are personal life choices we can make, but there are also many external factors over which we have no control – for instance the use of pesticides in farming or exposure to air pollution", stressed the rapporteur.

Finally, another key issue that the EU needs to address, in the EESC's view, is the protection of health-related personal data. Sharing a patient's data with and between health professionals can help improve treatment. But, to be able to share their health data, people must themselves have a proper understanding and be able to give their informed consent to healthcare professionals for use of the data. This informed consent is vital, but there is still a lot of vagueness as to how healthcare data can be used. There are also digital disruptors like the so-called "Big 5", which are now collecting data on individual behaviour and processing it (data mining): "These big digital players are all outside Europe, so we must ensure that we are able to protect the sovereignty of Member States, but also the healthcare systems themselves. Unfortunately in Europe today we are unable to stand up against these digital challenges. Europe has an essential role to play in putting in place a regulatory framework for that."

Europe also has a role to play in providing the means to meet the challenge: "At European level – as have seen with Airbus and Galileo – we need to provide the resources for health and digitalisation. Even big countries like France and Germany are not able to address the issue of digitalisation on their own. Look at the USA or China. We don't have such resources at Member State level anymore. The response must come from Europe, so that a real overall health and digital plan can be drawn up," concluded Mr Coheur.

The EESC opinion can be found here. There is a list of websites providing supporting background material at the end of the opinion.

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Benefits That Social Media Has to Offer in Healthcare

Benefits That Social Media Has to Offer in Healthcare | Social Media and Healthcare |

There's no doubt about the fact that the ways in which consumers and organizations used to communicate with each other online have been totally changed with the advent of social media. To be more specific, defining the way of communication entirely, social media has made the very access to unlimited information easier like never before. And when it comes to healthcare, the use of social media is continuously rising too. To have a better understanding of the benefits that healthcare social media offers, keep on reading.

Answers to Different Medical Queries

Often patients forget to ask something important to the doctors and realize what they forgot after coming back home from a doctor’s appointment. Even sometimes, patients do not like to wait till they get the appointment with a doctor and want to have access to some basic healthcare related information right away. Irrespective of whatever the case is, through social media getting answers to any medical queries whenever one needs them has become possible.

Developing Transparency

In the medical industry, transparency is something that should never be comprised in any away. And when people use social media in looking for healthcare related solutions, the provider of that information gets a chance to improve his credibility. Not only patients, even professionals can get a better idea about the particular works of the healthcare professionals, using the social media tool.

Promoting Better Interaction

Often, people find it difficult to freely interact with the doctors as they do not feel comfortable enough about sharing their intimate information. But every kind of medical information now being available on various social media platforms, such hesitant people are not only getting an opportunity to ask their doubts and questions frankly but also unrestricted access to healthcare information that till now they felt ashamed of asking openly. Even various social media platform encouraging patients to ask questions directly to doctors, without revealing their identity, interactions between the doctor and patient has improved beyond imagination.

Offering Peer Support

Giving a strong feeling that you are not alone in whatever health issues is troubling you, the availability of unlimited healthcare info act as a peer support. Many social platforms are there that let patients share their side of the story, whatever they have gone through or whatever treatment they are willing to find, and connects them to doctor or professional practitioners who offer them the needed solution offering them a professional support.

Whenever it comes to finding the appropriate medical advice online, or accessing a plethora of medical information related to any particular medical topic, not only the common people but even professionals are finding platforms like best social media in healthcare a truly helpful one. Serving as an ideal communication means without needing any appointments, social media has brought healthcare service within the reach of one single click.

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Digital Marketing for Healthcare Industry

Presentation on Digital Marketing for Healthcare Industry, that I delivered at Goa Institute of Management.
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4 Ways to Align Traditional and Digital Marketing for Health Care Conversions

4 Ways to Align Traditional and Digital Marketing for Health Care Conversions | Social Media and Healthcare |

All good marketing campaigns should incorporate a mix of traditional and digital advertising

Marketers for hospitals and health care-related companies are charged with bringing in new patients. Yet for a variety of reasons—perhaps pressure from the board or inveterate practices—traditional marketing continues to be the go-to strategy.

However, the digital age has changed everything. The average consumer is bombarded with more than 5,000 advertising messages a day from a variety of sources—whether a print ad, billboard, social media, text message or web display ad. With so much competition, it is not surprising that traditional marketing alone is no longer enough to acquire new patients.

Does that mean traditional marketing should be cut entirely? No. But it does mean that marketing needs to align offline and online efforts. Knowing when to turn to digital marketing experts to help achieve overall marketing goals is also an essential piece to the puzzle. Here are some strategies for aligning traditional with digital.

1. Opt for Complementary Strategy, Not All-or-Nothing

Traditional marketing, such as billboards and print advertisements, do exactly what they’re meant to do: disseminate information. They work well to passively communicate marketing messages, but they can work even better if they’re transformed into a launching point for a digital strategy. Just by issuing a call to action to learn more about a hospital or a health care-related company by visiting their website, the traditional method is now supporting a digital marketing strategy. The two can work together to complement each other. 

When patients are directed to a website, they are able to connect more deeply with the organization and consume the information available to them on their terms. Other digital touch points to consider include retargeting to encourage repeat visits to the site and HIPAA compliant chat on the website.

2. Use a Multi-faceted Digital Marketing Approach to Reach Consumers Where They Are

People have a variety of ways to consume information and connect with brands, and it’s mostly on their terms. Whether it’s a mobile app, a television commercial or a website, consumer touch points have increased, and modern marketers need to incorporate the necessary tools to reach consumers throughout their journey. Taking a multi-channel approach only enhances a hospital or health care-related company’s ability to engage with more people where they are and in ways that appeal to them.

Some media platforms work better than others depending on a health care organization’s target audience. However, using all the tools in the toolbox is key to expanding reach. Traditional methods like billboards work well to grab attention and direct to a website or social media channel. Social media channels are essential for every health care organization, but they are limited to the people that are already connected and engaged. Branching out beyond current followers and implementing a social ad campaign expands reach and can be strategically targeted based on demographics, interests and behaviors. 

Using Facebook for Health Care Marketing

Even traditional radio spots can be used in a digital environment like Pandora, Spotify and other streaming services. These services are excellent multi-channel platforms because, in addition to an audio message, a display ad can be used. Don’t forget about TV commercials. Many hospitals and health care-related companies have made significant investment in TV ads. YouTube is a digital alternative to traditional TV and can be effectively targeted as well.

The good news is that health care marketers have a variety of options to reach more people using a multi-channel approach.

3. Make Personal Connections Through Digital Marketing

Consumers use almost six touch points on average when buying a product or service, with nearly half regularly using four. It is increasingly challenging to reach and stay engaged with customers. Digital marketing methods provide a better opportunity for organizations to connect with a specific audience on a deeper level than traditional media. That is because the tools available to marketers allow them to create custom programs that sift through millions of social media users and directly target the people they want to reach. In addition to leveraging targeted social media programs, creating interesting content that potential patients will want to read will increase a health care organizations’ chances of getting the right eyeballs on their messages. In fact, 76% of people use their Facebook news feed to find interesting content.

4. Turn to Experts

There are many ways health care marketers can approach their marketing mix. However, with so many options and approaches, creating a strategy and executing on that strategy can be difficult, overwhelming and time-consuming. Just as patients go to doctors to get treatment, marketing executives should rely on digital marketing experts to help meet overall marketing goals.

Health care marketers have plenty of traditional and digital marketing tools to use to increase their brand awareness and attract patients. One method isn’t necessarily better than the other. The point is that, when used in tandem, both traditional and digital marketing techniques can work together to create effective and successful outcomes that grow patients, business and mindshare.

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The Robot Will See You Now. How Pharma Can Approach Using Chatbots. 

The Robot Will See You Now. How Pharma Can Approach Using Chatbots.  | Social Media and Healthcare |

Innovation can be defined as ‘the production of something original and useful in order to create value for society, business or both’. In line with many of the other great society changing landmarks that have occurred in our age of technology, such as the birth of television, the creation of digital music or the evolution of the mobile phone, we can find an intersection of how technology and a human need collide—which fosters the innovation.

One of the most common examples of human demand which has now been extrapolated in the internet digital era is the need to ‘access information’. But we are becoming lazier in our ever increasing busier lives, and looking it up in a book like when I was a kid is pretty obsolete. Humans tolerate less delay these days; we want it NOW, instantly and requiring limited effort. Chatbots and artificial intelligence (AI) are innovations which are already changing and will continue to change, allowing humans easier access to information through advanced AI platforms.

Messaging continues to dominate

That’s great and all, I hear you say, but isn’t it just another passing phase? Why is it important? Why should you care? Isn’t it just another ‘channel’ of info? In the last couple of years messaging platforms (FB Messenger, Snapchat, WhatsApp etc.) have surpassed the big four social media network channels in terms of size of audience, and clearly this is one of the main reasons that the Googles, Microsofts and Facebooks of this world are sinking billions of dollars into developing their offerings in this space. Now, stop and think about that for a second, and what an impact the current social platforms have had on society and the way we engage with each other today; that’s a pretty big deal, and now there is something that’s bigger!! With audience adoption of these messaging apps being so pervasive, it would make sense if you’re a digital business that’s interested in reach of any sort for this to be part of your channel strategy mix. The pharma industry needs to start aligning with the new consumer on-demand mindset that has been set by online businesses such as Netflix and Amazon. However, don’t include new technology just for the sake of being able to say you are doing it; you still need to put user needs at the centre and make sure you’re creating something that is relevant, valuable and useful to users. Otherwise, don’t bother. 

Technology in this space has progressed leaps and bounds in the last few years.  The rate of machine learning evolves quickly and this technology will only continue to get smarter, faster, more relevant and human-like in its operation. Working in the pharma sector, we know that traditionally this industry as a whole is somewhat of a laggard against more ‘innovation’ leading industry sectors. I think many understand where these blending of human and machine interactions can create immediate efficiencies, convenience and customer experience, so there certainly is an appetite for it. Healthcare is predicted to benefit greatly from this technology evolution and in an increasingly patient/customer-centric world, one of the questions we are constantly asked by our clients  is ‘How do I use this for my customers and in my pharma company?’.

Doing it for pharma

For all pharma organisations, naturally, control and risk mitigation are important factors. The thought of relying on an accurate Siri response to a customer’s question is enough to scare the life out of the typical pharma marketer, or at least elicit cries of ‘code breach!’. However, chatbots can actually be deemed a safe, secure channel, as they can (platform choice dependent) act in a one-to-one environment with customers, rather than social media’s typical one-to-many configuration. Part of the challenge of implementing innovation in a regulated market is about tackling the ‘folklore’ head on and also following successful examples set by your competitors. There are usually ways around these barriers, though, and it doesn’t have to start with anything overly complicated to set your own company precedent for these activities.

At Nitro Digital, we have found there are three typical approaches which pharma can take when addressing chatbots; which of these is the right choice for you really depends on the nature and objectives of your business:

    This operates a curated and controlled experience, with predetermined answers and scripts defined and approved for use. It it limited in scope but is currently a model which pharma marketers favour as they begin to explore this space.
    This model is machine learning driven, and it works by delivering natural language responses to questions and queries through learnt behaviour. This can, however, be unpredictable and its level of sophistication currently will still cause concerns as to the degree of control that can be kept.
    The third option is a mix of the previous two. It allows for the gathering of insights and builds on the knowledge base which customer interactions can offer by capturing these queries and storing them. This way, we prepare for the technology advancement in the platform without losing any of the rich learnings, which is something that pharma will typically do before jumping in. It is a more risk cautious method of approaching chatbots: whilst you are offering a curated experience,  you are also building the datasets of learning to apply to your development at a later date.

Of course, there are still challenges for the industry, like obtaining content approvals, ensuring the Fair Balance Act is upheld, observing privacy laws, etc., but these are obstacles with workarounds rather than showstoppers. However, as we have advised many eager and ambitious clients wanting to be the first to bring chatbots into their organisations—’Let’s not do this just for sake of doing it’—we still need to fill a user need, and it is still an activity which requires a commitment and needs ongoing maintenance and improvement.

‘But isn’t machine learning really difficult and expensive to do?’ you may ask. The truth is that creating a successful automation bot is more of a user experience (UX) challenge than one of technology complexity. And in that respect, it should be approached like any other social or digital activity. Think about the goals you want to achieve; what is the problem you are solving for your users; what is in it for them; what could be automated; what efficiencies can you make; what risk mitigation could this help with; is this something that will deliver cost saving: are all good questions to ask yourself. Start simple, learn, test and evolve the process.  

It’s evident that chatbots are another great technology which can help deliver value within digital marketing—and especially so for pharma and healthcare brands looking for a shortcut to offer value and information to their customers. Examples of instances where chatbots can provide value and enhanced patient care are doctor discussion guides, benefits verification support, medication and refill reminders and overall customer support and content delivery that the user can access whenever they want, 24/7, personalised for their needs. Artificial intelligence has advanced greatly in the last few years, so anyone with some coding smarts can do this, and, in addition, there are already lots of platforms and tools to leverage. Nitro has a 40+ strong team of keen software developers looking to experiment with this tech to solve problems for you.

So, start thinking about this now as this needs to be part of your digital strategy, not a bolt-on, nice-to-have afterthought. And you need to be thinking about this now for 2018, not 2020, as by then the market will be saturated and you’ll have missed the robo-party. You can read more about how chatbots can benefit  your marketing strategy in general here.

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5 must-have social media posts for hospital marketing teams 

5 must-have social media posts for hospital marketing teams  | Social Media and Healthcare |
Hospitals should leverage social media marketing

Hospitals across the U.S. have taken social media marketing to new levels, using the social amplification and shareability of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and even Pinterest (believe it or not) to tell healthcare stories to fans and followers.

When we partner with hospitals and elective care destinations for their marketing needs, social media strategy—both paid and organic—is always part of our recommendation due to its unique power to connect with audiences on a personal level.

As you’re putting together your hospital’s social media strategy, we at COHN wanted to make sure you don’t overlook these five social media post types that help your pages generate more engagement and build a stronger online following.

And because every hospital marketing blog in the U.S. features the Mayo Clinic as its go-to case study, we decided to keep things local and pull in examples from Colorado-based hospital providers. Enjoy!

1. Health tips

Regardless of industry, social media is the place to flaunt expertise—and what are hospitals if not experts in all things health? The most successful way to gain an audience in content marketing and social media is to provide value to your audiences, and so as experts in health, do your part to share your knowledge to help your followers stay healthy.

Colorado example:

Photo credit: Children’s Hospital of Colorado

2. Translate current events and pop culture news

Want to tap into the shareability of social media? Catch the wave of trending topics. What was Angelina Jolie just diagnosed with? Does Pokemon Go have any health effects? Is “Work Martyr Syndrome” a real disease, and if so, what does your hospital say about it?

Colorado example:

Photo credit: Presbyterian / St. Luke’s Medical Center

3. Risk awareness

As a local authority on your community’s health and wellbeing, posting about potential health risks in the area is not only smart social media strategy, it’s also the right thing to do.

Colorado example:

Photo credit: Denver Health

4. Staff recognition

Don’t overlook the size and reach of your internal staff on social media. This is your chance to promote and highlight internal champions at your hospital, which is paramount to building a culture of recognition and respect.

Colorado example:

Photo credit: Rose Medical Center

5. Patient stories

We saved the best for last. If you aren’t sharing patient stories via social media, you’re doing it wrong. Whether it’s through long-form storytelling that relies on written storytelling, quotes, photos, X-rays, testimonials and more, or rich video that tugs at your heartstrings, sharing patient stories is by far your greatest opportunity to connect with social media users.

Colorado example:

Credit: UCHealth YouTube 

If you’re a hospital marketer and you are looking for a marketing partner to help you with your social media strategy, give us a call. We’re a full-service hospital and healthcare marketing agency that uses brand strategy to drive results for your team

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4 best channels to communicate with physicians

4 best channels to communicate with physicians | Social Media and Healthcare |

Pharmaceutical representatives have a tough job on their hands. They have to convince doctors that the products they’re selling are worth physicians’ time and patients’ money. This is no easy feat, especially when considering the busy schedules medical professionals keep and their limited time to speak with drug reps.

To be respectful of physicians’ packed calendars, while also ensuring these healthcare providers have the information and access to helpful pharmaceutical medications, representatives have to do more than show up at a doctor’s office to showcase their products.

Here are four of the best channels you can use to communicate effectively and efficiently with busy physicians:


1. Email

According to HealthLink Dimensions’ 2017 Healthcare Provider Communication Survey, around 66 percent of physicians consider email to be their preferred means of interaction when it comes to information related to product updates or announcements. As a result, it’s critical for drug representatives to use this tactic to communicate with their audience. But simply sending an email isn’t enough. Pharmaceutical companies also need to make sure their efforts are optimized to be read on a variety of devices, from desktop computers to mobile phones and tablets. This ensures doctors will be able to look over the product materials on their smart instruments during any down time or breaks they have during the day.

2. Professional conferences

When physicians do get some quality time off from their practice, they may use it to further improve the services and products their office provides patients. Professional conferences enable doctors to gather a wealth of information while also attending helpful talks related to their craft.  These conferences provide face-to-face time with doctors who are interested in learning more about what’s on the market for the benefit of their patients. Just be sure your presentation is short and sweet, keeping the most important data points at the top of the discussion to keep physicians’ interest.  In addition to an exhibit hall area, conferences provide ample opportunities to network with healthcare professionals, such as continuing educational sessions and association sponsored social events.   Sometimes some of the smaller, regional meetings provide a better chance to network with healthcare professionals in your area.  To help you find some meetings you may have not attended before, here’s a source to search over 2500 medical meetings by destination and specialty.

3. Direct mail

Direct mail will never go out of practice and for good reason: It still works. Sending out brochures, catalogs, postcards and other promotional materials is a good way to market medications, especially if free samples are included for physicians to test out with their patients. According to the HealthLink survey, 8 percent of physicians prefer this advertising tactic. To ensure your direct mail campaign is successful, Target Marketing recommended:

  • Focusing on the benefits of the pharmaceutical drugs.
  • Integrating direct mail with other marketing methods.
  • Repurposing content frequently.
  • Regularly updating recipient lists.
  • Creating personal outreach.
  • Following up after the fact.

By following these tips, pharmaceutical companies and their representatives can yield strong results.

“Marketers should form quality relationships with their audience via social media.”

4. Social media

Today, around 37 percent of physicians use social media platforms to communicate with patients, other doctors and healthcare professionals, and pharmaceutical and medical device companies, according to HealthLink. On top of that, almost 57 percent of doctors see the value of this practice and plan to utilize it in the future.

Social media is an easy and inexpensive way to get the word out about new pharmaceutical medications and more. The platforms are free to sign up for, but do offer buy-in features for companies to enhance their marketing pull and audience. In order to make this tactic a success, it’s important for pharma representatives to build quality relationships with those individuals they interact with, according to Social Media Examiner. Those who see the benefit in their interactions with pharma companies on these platforms are more willing to share information and bring referrals to the site.

While representative visits to doctor’s offices can be productive, more and more physicians are instituting “No See” days where they don’t allow pharma companies into their facility. To ensure medical professionals still have access to important drug information and updates, these organizations need to utilize other forms of marketing, including email, conference exhibits, direct mail and social media.

Since the majority of these alternative methods require physician materials to be successful, it’s important for pharma businesses to ensure the data they have on hand is accurate and up to date. Without clean information, marketers can waste valuable time and money on their efforts.

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Professional Use of Social Media Among Surgeons: Results of a Multi-Institutional Study

Professional Use of Social Media Among Surgeons: Results of a Multi-Institutional Study | Social Media and Healthcare |


Among surgeons, professional use of social media (SM) is varied, and attitudes are ambiguous. We sought to characterize surgeons' professional use and perceptions of SM.


Surgical faculty and trainees received institutional review board-approved e-mail surveys assessing SM usage and attitudes. Regression analyses identified predictors of SM attitudes and preference for professional contact.


Surveys were administered to surgical faculty, fellows, and residents at 4 academic medical centers between January and April 2016.


Of 1037 surgeons, clinical fellows, and residents e-mailed, 208 (20%) responded, including 132 faculty and 76 trainees.


Among 208 respondents, 46 (22%) indicated they preferred some form of SM as their preferred networking and communication modality. A total of 145 (70%) indicated they believe SM benefits professional development. The position of clinical resident predicted preference to maintain professional contact via SM (p = 0.03). Age <55 predicted positive attitude (p = 0.02) and rank of associate professor predicted negative attitude toward SM (p = 0.03). Lack of time as well as personal and patient privacy concerns were cited most commonly as reasons for not using SM.


Most of surgeons responding to our survey used some form of SM for professional purposes. Perceived barriers include lack of value, time constraints, and personal and patient privacy concerns. Generational differences in surgeon attitudes suggest usage of SM among surgeons will expand over time.

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Doctors dancing in the operating room? New rules proposed for plastic surgery social media

Doctors dancing in the operating room? New rules proposed for plastic surgery social media | Social Media and Healthcare |

Forget those vacation pictures. Sharing graphic social media posts is one new way to gain followers.

Everything from botox to tummy tucks and breast augmentation are now being posted and live-streamed online by doctors and medical practitioners. While tactics like these are becoming increasingly popular to advertise surgery, there has been no regulation or direction regarding what is appropriate or allowed in the medical field — until now.

“It’s kind of like the Wild West out there, with no guidelines or rules,” Robert Dorfman, a third-year medical student at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine who co-authored a new code of ethical behavior for sharing plastic surgery videos on social media said. The suggested guidelines, published last week in the Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Journal, are meant to address the “circus atmosphere” of plastic surgery social media and drew on inspiration from founding principles of medical ethics that date back to Hippocrates.

Examples of the “circus”-like behavior cited in the paper included a plastic surgeon cradling fat removed from a tummy-tuck in his arms like a baby and then putting a baby face on it using a Snapchat filter. Other doctors dressed in costumes, danced before surgery, and otherwise flaunted removed body tissues on camera.

Examples of the ‘circus’-like behavior cited in the paper included a plastic surgeon cradling fat removed from a tummy-tuck in his arms like a baby and then putting a baby face on it using a Snapchat filter.

Dorman calls this the “Dr. Miami effect,” referring to Miami-based plastic surgeon Michael Salzhauer who began posting procedures online several years ago and gained 661,000 followers on Instagram FB, +0.32% Judging by the support of his followers, it may help normalize these procedures and even reduce fear potential patients may have about going under the knife. “Dr. Miami” also posts his price list on Instagram: It costs $9,945 for a “Brazilian Buttlift.” (Salzhauer did not respond to request for comment.)

Dorman said many are seeking to replicate this social-media-fueled success. “This is a trend we are seeing throughout the U.S. and the world,” he said.

Proposed guidelines include obtaining written consent from patients before posting their operations on social media channels and informing patients that they have the right to refuse or change their mind regarding online posts. Surgeons are already required to obtain consent before posting identifying videos and photos of patients, but Dorfman and other authors question the validity of the consent due to the power dynamics in patient-doctor relationships.

They say it is important to warn patients that even if they change their minds about a post and opt to have it deleted, it can live on through other social media posts or manipulated and shared. Another recommendation put forth by the authors was to hire assistants to document surgeries to ensure photographing and video taping does not interrupt the procedures, something Salzhauer already does.

“There is increasingly vulgar content by a growing number of plastic surgeons that is not in the best interest of the patient,” senior author Dr. Clark Schierle, a plastic surgeon and faculty member of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine said. “We want to create guidelines that balance the need for plastic surgeons to post on social media, but we also want to maintain some element of professionalism.”

Exacerbating the problem: Many practitioners using social media to advertise procedures are not board-certified plastic surgeons, said Heather Furnas, a member of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. This means they have not completed the six-or-more years of additional training required to be approved by the American Board of Plastic Surgery.

In fact, a recent study found only 18% of more than 1.7 million posts under the “plastic surgery” hashtag on Instagram were posted by board-certified plastic surgeons. Others were posted by barbers, salons, dentists, and other physicians not certified by the board. Because of this, board-certified surgeons have to place additional importance on following the rules — and recognizing the serious nature of surgery, she said.

“When surgeons are dancing in the operating room, people may misperceive surgery as this lighthearted event,” Dorfman said. “Yet there are risks associated with going under the knife, such as infection, excessive bleeding or possibly blood clots. The videos may be giving some people false illusions of what surgery is actually like.”

The latest proposals are still a long way from becoming industry requirements. They were published in the Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Journal on Sept. 28 and will be presented Oct. 6 at the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) annual meeting in Orlando. The recommendations will be considered and voted on at the ASPS meeting and, if passed, will apply to all members of the society.

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ROI of Social Media Strategies, 5 Steps to Success

Workshop presentation the Ragan Communications-Hopkins 2015 conference,
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7 Patient Strategies for Growing Your Business Online

7 Patient Strategies for Growing Your Business Online | Social Media and Healthcare |

In case you haven’t noticed, there are more than a few entrepreneurs online daily talking and marketing the same kind of business, and offering the same services. You log onto social media and you see many of your entrepreneur friends that sell podcast services, build funnels, run ads, can teach you how to use live video, teach you how to create a profitable blog, and the list goes on. Building an online business isn’t easy, and there are some hard realities that you need to realize, CopyBlogger tells us.

I know I’m not telling you anything new. Having said that, I love the freedom an online business can provide. As you’re reading this, I’m writing this article from a cafe in Nairobi, Kenya. I'm here in Africa as part of a six-country consulting tour. While I’m writing this, people are buying my books and other products on my website. I’m making money passively while enjoying the amazingness of Africa. If this is one of your goals, there are seven things you can do to get better results from building an online business or increasing your business' presence online.

1. Stop copying other entrepreneurs. 

Customers buy from someone they know, like and trust. They don’t buy from strangers. If you are the clone of some other and/or famous entrepreneur, they’ll never get to know the real you. When they want to buy, they will buy from the entrepreneur you are copying. Use frameworks that work, but don’t be a clone. Model success but don't copy it. Let your voice come through, and build a business that’s yours.


2. Be clear about who your core audience is. 

If you try to reach the whole world, you’ll end up reaching no one because your efforts to reach customers will be scattered. You won’t be able to help people where they are if you’re not speaking to a specific target audience. The more specific you can get with your target audience, the easier time you’ll have marketing, which is what ultimately grows your business. When you do, you will be focused on your strategies. Your branding and messaging should be very clear.


3. Keep it simple. 

Keep your website simple and clean. Even though Wordpress has a variety of options for widgets and plugins, you don’t need all of them. When someone visits your website it shouldn’t confuse them. When it comes to your business, keep it simple, too. Build traffic to your website. Learn the biggest struggles your target audience is facing. Create products and services that help solve those problems. Rinse and repeat. Yes, it can be that simple to create a solid foundation.


4. Don’t rely exclusively social media. 

While you can’t ignore social media, don’t make it your number one strategy for traffic and leads. New York Times best-selling author, Crystal Paine, clearly illustrated this. The bottom line is that you want to build your business on your platform, not someone else’s. You want people to sign up to your email list, and interact with you personally, not just on social media.


5. Focus on what’s important.

There’s a wealth of information you can learn online. Most of these things aren’t important to where you are in the process. If you’re building, you probably shouldn’t be learning about SEO. If you guest post and build your audience in other ways, the SEO will naturally come, so your time is better spent writing guest posts. Sit down, and evaluate where you’re at in your entrepreneurial journey, and stick to what will help you where you are. Don’t fall victim to information overload because it can easily keep you from making progress. The speed of implementation is what makes you successful in business


6. Don’t be afraid to charge a fair price. 

It would be great to help as many people as possible for free, but you have a family to care for and bills to pay. If you add value and help people, you should be paid a fair price for it. Remember, you’re building a business; it can’t be a business if it doesn’t make money. There are people online who should be ashamed at what they’re doing and charging, but you’ll find that in any industry. As long as you focus on serving and adding value to your customer's lives, your prices will be justified.

7. Keep pushing towards your goals. 

At the end of the day, if you want this to succeed, you have to determine right now that you’ll keep going no matter what. Perseverance is what makes your business grow. Even if you haven’t made the process you wanted to make at this point, you can’t give up. Build this business one relationship, and one sell at a time.

Have patience. This takes time to build. With focused effort, you can build a powerful online business or grow your business' presence online. Use these seven strategies to optimize your building efforts. Have patience, and build something that helps your target audience. Focus and you will do this.

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Physician Communication: Inform Strategy Through Research

Research conducted by Johns Hopkins Medicine and the aligning strategy.
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Digital Marketing vs. Traditional Healthcare Marketing 

Digital Marketing vs. Traditional Healthcare Marketing  | Social Media and Healthcare |

To take your practice to new heights, you need to have a strong marketing strategy. For customer satisfaction, you need to offer quality care and good treatment, but for your practice's outreach, you need to make more people know about you and that's possible only through marketing. Although the benefits of digital marketing outweigh traditional marketing, both have their own significance.

Marketing goals

Before deciding between digital and traditional marketing or both, you need to set your goals for launching a marketing plan. For instance:

• To strengthen your presence and publicize your services in your locality

• To increase your patient base

• To thank your existing patients and offer facilities to them

• To increase referrals from other doctors, etc.

Once you are done with setting goals, it's time to decide the marketing type to put into practice.

Traditional healthcare marketing

Traditional marketing includes marketing through television, newspaper, and radio advertisements. Brochures and event marketing are some other ways of traditional marketing. Traditional marketing always follows the 'push marketing' concept. In digital marketing, the 'pull' strategy is followed.

Digital healthcare marketing

Digital marketing is constantly evolving. More than 70 percent of people use online reviews for finding a physician or making a physical visit. People avoid visiting a doctor with no online presence. Digital marketing can involve creating a website, using search engine optimization, PPC (pay-per-lick), email marketing, social media, YouTube advertising, etc. Let's discuss its advantages in more detail below.

Digital marketing vs. traditional marketing

Cost-effective: Digital marketing is less expensive than traditional marketing. Many online marketing channels are free. For instance, creating an account on social media platforms is free. You only need to devote time for its maintenance. SEO service requires placement of the right keywords to bring organic leads or people searching your practice. Other services such as website creation, email marketing, etc. are affordable and reap good results for a longer time.

Better reach: Digital allows you to have marketing campaigns specific to gender, location, age, symptom or treatment. Whether based on demographics or geography, you can reach your target audience easily.

Result tracking: Digital marketing offers various tools to track leads and conversions through online marketing activity. It guides you on the type and time of investment and how it impacts your practice. Whereas, in the case of radio/TV advertising, you cannot track the leads coming from the advertisement.

Builds bond: Since digital marketing is a two-way communication model, it builds the doctor-patient relationship, making patients feel important. Patient forms on your website, your social media account, emails and your accounts on review platforms allow patients to interact with you or review your services. Whether positive or negative, always thank the reviewer who took time to write about your services.

Better interaction: Social media platforms give you space to socialize with your existing patients and new ones. It is the best place to express your thought-leader personality to your target audience to build a foundation of trust. If you post an offer for your existing patients, potential patients on your social media page will be attracted to your practice and prefer visiting you.

Quick approachability: A person who hears your practice advertisement on radio or TV is likely to forget it soon. Whereas, online ads come with a call to action that takes the viewer directly to your website or destination page with no possibility of losing a potential patient. Your call to action should be different for different campaigns.

Citation: Citation means mentioning of your practice on other relevant sites. It includes your name, address and phone number (NAP). The more and consistent citations you have, the higher your visibility will be online and, subsequently, your patient base will increase.

Reputation builder: Online marketing helps you build a strong online reputation. Subsequently you get better word-of-mouth marketing for your practice. A good online image means more referrals and more potential patients visiting your practice.

Digital media allows you to develop better relationships with the individual audience. Take time to communicate with your patients and understand their requirements. Watch your strategies and market your practice the best way you can.

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PHI of 15,000 Shared on Social Media 

PHI of 15,000 Shared on Social Media  | Social Media and Healthcare |

It’s not surprising the popularity of social media continues to rise. Social media provides us with a convenient way to communicate electronically, to share information, ideas, personal thoughts, and other content.  The Pew Research center estimates approximately 76% of Americans who use the internet regularly use at least one social networking site. 10 years ago, only 7% of the U.S. population used one or more social networking sites.

Because of the convenience and the increased popularity of social media usage, we need to proactively be thinking about what information is being shared, who will see the information, and when the information may be shared.

Just last year, the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) announced that personal information form DHHS internal files had been posted to a social media site. The breached files contain protected health information (PHI) and personal information for as many as 15,000 DHSS clients.

According to the New Hampshire DHHS press release:

  • In October 2015, PHI was accessed by an individual who was a patient at New Hampshire Hospital at the time, using a computer that was available for use by patients in the library of the hospital.
  • A staff member observed the individual access non-confidential DHSS information on a personal computer in the library.
  • The staff member reported the incident to a supervisor who attempted to restrict access to the library computers. However, the incident was not reported to management at the hospital or to DHHS.
  • On August 2016, a security official from the hospital informed DHHS that the same individual may have posted some DHHS information on social media.
  • On November 4, 2016 DHSS was informed by the hospital security department that the same individual that day had posted confidential, personal information to a social media site.

The press release goes on to say this was an isolated incident that stemmed from unauthorized access in October 2015 and “not the result of an external attack.” If you need help training your organization on social media and HIPAA, read our article about the “Do’s and Don’ts of Social Media.

While the popularity of social media usage continues to grow, so does the threat of confidential and personal information being shared.  This is one of the reasons why Healthcare Compliance Pros is publishing our social media series.  In our next article, we will reference this incident as we provide 5 tips for ensuring PHI does not impermissibly be shared on social media.

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Unlocking Social Media's Potential In Health Care

Unlocking Social Media's Potential In Health Care | Social Media and Healthcare |

As the use of social media continues to rise and become more ubiquitous, researchers are determining how user data can be used in health-care screening. Medtech Insight explores how social media could be used to predict and manage patient health in the future, including research on its use to improve diabetes management and its potential in mental health assessments.




Today, more and more of us are embracing social media to communicate at home or at work. Whether it's Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or some other platform – the power of social networking is ever-present in our lives.



So much so that according to a report by eMarketer, by 2020 the number of worldwide social media users is expected to reach some 2.95 billion, around a third of the global population. With social media becoming the dominant form of communication, health-care stakeholders are turning to this information being generated as a means of gaining insights into health and management of disease.



In a recent study, Michelle Litchman, a specialist nurse practitioner and assistant professor at the University of Utah College of Nursing, Salt Lake City, used the social media platform Instagram to search images of people using continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) made by Dexcom to see where the monitors were being worn on the body.



At present, US FDA has approved Dexcom monitors for use on the abdomen. However, Litchman was finding that patients coming into her practice were wearing their CGMs on other parts of their anatomy. "When I asked patients about it, they said they felt that they were getting really good, accurate readings and had seen others using these alternative [anatomical] sites online," explained Litchman.



She decided to investigate this further and together with a team of colleagues, Litchman did a manual search on the Instagram website for photos of patients wearing Dexcom CGMs. Searching under the hashtag 'Dexcom', they found 353 public posts featuring people wearing Dexcom monitors, which is one of the leading devices of its kind on the market. The team coded the data based on which body part the CGM was being worn and also coded the comments on each post. Litchman observed that users were providing "peer-to-peer education" on social media, often teaching other users how the CGM might work for them when worn on different sites or explaining if it was comfortable in that position.



The team determined that two out of three Dexcom CGM users wore the device on an 'unapproved' part of the body but had good results. In addition to the Instagram study, Litchman and her team submitted a manuscript on the use of CGM and how patients share their data with care partners, such as a parent or spouse. The study used information acquired from online diabetes blogs. "We wanted to get the view from both sides, so not just the person with diabetes but also the care partner," Litchman told Medtech Insight. "We did a systematic appraisal and examined 39 different blogs that were in the diabetes online community, looking at 206 comments on the blogs in the comment section." The research demonstrated that mining personal blogs, provided useful insights into patient's diabetes management.



With Litchman's team currently conducting all research manually, the next step will be to digitize and automate these searches. "One of the challenges of a digital search on Instagram is ensuring that different shadows within photographs don't stop an analyzer from detecting a device. Of the photos we found, sometimes the CGM was in a shadow or at a slightly hidden angle. This could be a challenge, going digital, but I definitely think it can be done," she said. "It would also be interesting to look at other hashtags and potentially other social media sites, because we know that Instagram has a much younger audience so we could explore Facebook, Twitter and even Tumblr that attract different types of people."



Mental Health Promise – But Data Privacy A Snag


Other researchers are employing artificial intelligence and deep learning techniques as a more efficient way to sort through large clusters of user-generated information. Scientists from Harvard University and Vermont University recently published a study in the in the journal EPJ Data Science, showing how machine learning was able to identify markers of depression. Using Instagram data from 166 individuals, the researchers analyzed statistical features computationally extracted from 43,950 participant Instagram photos, using color analysis, metadata components, and algorithmic face detection.



Utilizing machine learning, the scientists were able to identify distinctions in color choices, image qualities, and filters and enhancements among participants in both categories. These profile patterns were analyzed to create a model confirming or predicting depression.



Depressed and undiagnosed depressive individuals tended to post darker images with blue or gray tints, blurred images, and single-face photos more often than their healthy counterparts, who posted brighter or lighter images with more aesthetic enhancements, and multiple faces in a photo. Additional findings revealed that depressed participants generally received more likes on their photos and posted more often.



Andrew Reece, co-author of the study from Harvard University cautioned that despite results suggesting the promise of using these social media photos for early screening and detection of mental illness, the science was at too early of a stage to understand the long-term potential for diagnostic use.



"I think there are a few important caveats that need to be considered when we talk about how predictive mental health screening might be used," said Reece. "First of all, there's a concern about exactly who are the people we've got to participate in the study and are they really representative of the broader population - or is there something specific about them that we've just learned through this study?"



To participate in the study, a select group of individuals had to fulfil set criteria. Participants were crowdsourced using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (MTurk) crowdwork platform and had to complete separate surveys for depressed and healthy individuals. In the depressed survey, participants were invited to complete a survey that involved passing a series of inclusion criteria, responding to a standardized clinical depression survey, answering questions related to demographics and history of depression, and sharing social media history.



"We had far more people drop out of our study at the point when we asked them to share their social media profiles compared to when we asked them to share their personal mental health history," said Reece. "43% of all our participants walked away when we asked them to share their Instagram photos. So to me, that's a strong signal that data privacy is an extremely relevant issue and there isn't a whole lot of trust between the general public in how researchers or companies may use their data."



To overcome this obstacle, researchers must establish more trust from the public in how personal data will be used in studies. "In the future if there was going to be some kind of set-up where physicians were able to access patients' social media data to make assessments, this would definitely have to be voluntary and the patient would need to have total control over how their data is used," said Reece.



In addition to the Instagram findings, Reece previously conducted a study using Twitter to forecast and trace the onset of mental illness. Twitter data and details of depression history were collected from 204 individuals, with the team extracting predictive features measuring linguistic style, and context and then built models using these features with supervised learning algorithms. The resulting models successfully discriminated between depressed and healthy content, and compared favorably to general practitioners' average success rates in diagnosing depression.



"In the graphs from the study, 6-9 months before people received their official diagnosis for depression there's a line for healthy and depressed people. The lines start off at the same point and then suddenly, just based on the language used in the Tweets by depressed people online the probability of depression based on what you're saying online rises and peaks just when depressed people get their first diagnosis," Reece told Medtech Insight.



"Then, about 8-12 weeks after that diagnosis, we begin to see the probability and the line go down for the depressed people and that's right around the time when therapies start having an effect. It's fascinating to detect a signal of if there's a problem and watch it progress over time. With this technology, we can see it well before an individual goes and gets an official diagnosis."



With the advancement of this technology in health care, governments would have to play a key role in regulation. "Even public data can unintentionally contain private information if you have the right analytical tools," says Andrew Reece, Department of Psychology, Harvard University. "So, I think the role of science, as always, is to be rigorous and careful in discovery of facts and new ways of learning about the world. Then the role of government is really to keep in check the way that progress grows and provide ethical guidelines in place governing privacy. Scientists and government officials need to work hand in hand."



However, Reece said with the advancement of this technology in health care, governments would have to play a key role in regulation. "Even public data can unintentionally contain private information if you have the right analytical tools. So, I think the role of science, as always, is to be rigorous and careful in discovery of facts and new ways of learning about the world. Then the role of government is really to keep in check the way that progress grows and provide ethical guidelines in place governing privacy. Scientists and government officials need to work hand in hand."



Twitter For Predicting Flu Spread


Twitter has been used previously to predict the spread of flu. In 2013, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launched the "Predict the Influenza Season Challenge," a competition that encouraged researchers to use social media to post their prediction on how the flu will spread. Researchers at Northeastern University, Johns Hopkins University and the University of Rochester found real-time information like tweets posted on Twitter to be a useful source of public health information and that location-based tweet could be used to track outbreaks and actually predict where flu will spread.



This information could be invaluable for public health departments, providing them advanced warnings and time to plan with additional doctors or hospital beds. With GPS information embedded in tweets, the location information gathered from Twitter is vital for pinpointing outbreaks.



But is the hype around these applications outpacing the reality or are we set to witness a turning point in predictive health-care screening? "In the case of depression, an accurate diagnosis is very difficult to get, especially when there are many other things that can be going on," said Reece. "If there's some kind of technological solution that people are willing to participate in and share all of this data that they've created, with possibility for it to feedback and help them one day, that's really where we need to show a proof-of-concept."



For Litchman, she believes the value of social media will be fully realized by researchers and health-care community once more studies are conducted. "There's a lack of research validating the use of social media in a more randomized, controlled setting, which is what we need to be doing," she said.



"One of the things we found in practice, was diabetes patients who were engaged with the diabetes online community via social media, had a better A1C [blood glucose level] test, so now our team is looking at a small trial in which people will be randomized in either being part of a diabetes online community or control group to see the effect. I think studies like that are going to help provide more data for health-care providers in determining whether social media provides value and what value it can provide."



Ultimately, for patients and health-care providers, social media will always be a useful tool for providing patient community and support. Litchman said: "We already see social media being used day to day for the support, tips and tricks for people with diabetes. On Twitter, there's a tweet chat every Wednesday night and there's a lot of people that engage with that, people asking questions and offering advice and support. People raise each other up through social media by getting emotional support and a community.



"If you're part of a community where other people are similar to you then it's positive. At the end of the day, collective wisdom of having several people who are similar to you is always valuable in getting the information that is helpful to you."

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