Social Media and Healthcare
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Physician Communication: Inform Strategy Through Research

Research conducted by Johns Hopkins Medicine and the aligning strategy.
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Social Media and Healthcare
Articles and Discussions on the intersection of Social Media and Healthcare.
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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How Should Doctors Respond to Online Reviews? 

How Should Doctors Respond to Online Reviews?  | Social Media and Healthcare |

In the field of medicine, reputations are hard won.

If you are a consultant you will appreciate more than most, the years of sacrifice, hard work and dedication that were invested behind the scenes while you were making a name for yourself.

Within the ever changing digital landscape, everyone now has the opportunity to review and comment on your services, and with the increasing popularity and proliferation of review websites, their voices are now louder than ever.  


If you are thinking that online reviews are only for hoteliers and cafe owners, you may want to reconsider. Positive reviews will carry a lot of weight in the decision making process for all online users, including potential patients. In fact, 74% of consumers say that positive reviews make them trust a local business more and 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as they would trust a personal recommendation.


It is also worth noting that online reviews have an large impact on local search, influencing as much as 10% of the ranking. If you want your practice to appear highly in the search engines you need to request reviews regularly, and keep them up to date.

The Benefits of Bad Reviews

It may seem counterintuitive, but even bad reviews are valuable to your business. They can offer insights into areas where your business could be improved. After all, you can’t oversee every single aspect of running a private practice. From our studies, we have found the majority of poor reviews have little or nothing to do with the consultant or doctor. For example, poor reviews often focus on issues like unfriendly staff on reception or confusion about appointment times.


Responding promptly to these bad reviews in a professional and courteous manner is of vital importance. However, many practitioners overlook this. Though it can be a challenging task (particularly within the constraints of patient confidentiality) it can help to contain bad sentiment or rectify situations where patients have been left feeling dissatisfied.


Doctors will often tell us that they have not responded to bad reviews because they have been unsure how to respond due to patient confidentiality issues. This silence can be seen as validation of the review. You’re not defending yourself, so readers may assume the public  feedback must be (at least partially) true. However, the patient has already voluntarily divulged that they (or a relative) has attended the clinic, so it is acceptable to address the issue without giving out any specific details.


In a field where trust is of paramount importance, responding to reviews actually gives the opportunity to gain patient trust, respect and set out your own high standards.. To quote the GMC:


“Patients must be able to trust doctors with their lives and health. To justify that trust you must show respect for human life and make sure your practice meets the standards expected of you”.


Even if one patient is displeased with the service they have received, you can still demonstrate the respect and standards you hold to other potential patients searching for you online.  


How should healthcare professionals and doctors respond to negative reviews online?

Start with a thank you. This shows that you welcome all feedback and appreciate the time people have spent writing it.

Reinforce standards. Some people have impossible standards that can never be met. By stating that you strive for excellence, you are showing searchers the standards you expect of yourself and your clinic.

Apologise! Getting an apology from some consultants can be harder than getting a ‘yes’ / ‘no’ from a politician. Acknowledging that something went badly enough to prompt a bad review can be enough to show a human and down-to-earth attitude.

Maintain confidentiality. No one wants to become embroiled in an online dispute and doing so may well risk breaching patient confidentiality.

Provide another channel of communication. The script below offers patients the option to contact you again to discuss their issue with more privacy.

Keep it professional. Many web users will not click through to a website with negative reviews. Leaving a professional response like the one below may be enough to recapture the interest of the user.

Show that you care. Private patients are often vocal about the sums they have paid for a private  treatment or consultation. Responding to feedback shows that you are interested in the outcome of this investment.

Demonstrate your bedside manner. Potential patients are much more likely to dismiss a negative review that is handled sensitively than a review that is ignored.


Perhaps most importantly, a response that has all these elements works because patients appreciate it: 26% of consumers say it’s important that a local business responds to its reviews, and if a business resolves its issue quickly and efficiently, 95% of unhappy customers will return back to your business

A Template for Doctors Who Have Received A Bad Review

An example of an appropriate response to a bad review is outlined below. Feel free to copy and paste it – don’t forget to edit it accordingly – for your own needs;


“Thank you for your valuable feedback. We always aim to provide the most exceptional service possible at [your clinic] and we can only apologise sincerely that your experience did not meet these expectations on this occasion. Due to confidentiality laws, we cannot go into further details here, however, we would be happy to discuss your experiences if you contact us privately.”


How often should healthcare professionals and doctors seek reviews?


Maybe you received some satisfactory reviews in the past but prompting clients to leave reviews regularly is vital. This ensures that your review posts are considered to be an accurate reflection of your business as it is currently. Almost 73% of consumers think that reviews older than 3 months are no longer relevant


If you are successful in gathering positive reviews on a regular basis it will have a positive impact on your practice’s website. As many as 54% of people will visit your website after reading positive reviews.


Don’t forget that regular replies to reviews both good and bad offer you the chance to showcase your practice’s customer service skills as well as offering a personal touch.

The danger of not getting reviews for healthcare professionals and doctors

On some directory sites such as Google My Business, visitors are able to post reviews or star ratings directly onto your business listing. This is then displayed for all visitors to see. Sites will often average out scores, even when the total number of ratings posted is very low, Google My Business being one such example.


So, if you only have say, three ratings, even if two of them carry 5 stars, it would only take one poor rating of one or two stars to make a huge impact on your average overall rating. This is prominently displayed next to your listing.


Therefore it is in your interest to try and maximise the overall quantity of ratings and reviews on your listings pages. This enables an overwhelming quantity of good 4 or 5 star ratings to absorb the damage that an occasional 1 or 2 star review can wreak on your overall rating. The impact of this should be overlooked at your peril, as 92% of people will hesitate to do business with companies with less than four out five stars


Four or more negative articles about your company or product appearing in Google search results is likely to cause you to lose 70% of potential customers and it only takes one to three negative reviewsfor most people to decide not to buy your product or service


If you have an active business listing on Google, you can encourage satisfied clients to leave positive reviews using an automated prompt when sending out emails: 7 out of 10 consumers will leave a review for a business if they’re asked to. Remember that you only need one or two favourable ratings or reviewsto give you a clearly displayed 5* rating next to your business name, adding credibility to your business and reputation.

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Social Media, Powerful Tool to Address Health Issues

Social Media, Powerful Tool to Address Health Issues | Social Media and Healthcare |

Nearly half of all American adults who use the internet have accessed information on specific health conditions, according to a 2009 National Health Interview Survey. The Pew Internet and American Life project reported that as of August, 2012, an estimated 80 percent of American internet users searched for health information.

This trend creates a powerful opportunity for communication experts to partner with health-care practitioners to make a difference in the lives of patients, particularly those dealing with chronic conditions. “It’s essential to evaluate how people use online resources when developing materials for social media campaigns,” said Rebecca Katherine Britt, assistant professor and coordinator of the social media minor in the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication at South Dakota State University.

Britt, who came to South Dakota State University after earning her doctorate in communication from Purdue University in 2012, conducts research that promotes public health by applying communication theories and using mass communication and social media. To do this, she engages in interdisciplinary research projects that bring together communicators and health-care professionals to help build healthier communities by increasing patient education and preventative health care.

At the 2017 Faculty Celebration of Excellence, Britt received the Sherwood and Elizabeth Berg Young Scientist Award, which recognizes outstanding South Dakota State University researchers early in their careers.

Assessing eHealth competency

Britt and Kristen Nicole Hatten, assistant communication professor at Western Michigan University, developed an eHealth competency scale to help assess patients’ comfort levels in using electronic resources as well as the effectiveness of the materials and communication strategies used.

“This tool is helpful when developing a social media campaign, for instance, and working with a sensitive population,” Britt explained. “It helps inform us on how to design and develop materials.” Their paper is published in a 2016 issue of the Technical Communication Quarterly.

“Most of my research applies traditional communication theory to practical health needs,” said Britt.

Connecting Native Americans on dialysis

SDSU College of Nursing Dean Nancy Fahrenwald and Research Coordinator Shana Harming understand the impact that Britt’s expertise can have. They worked with Britt and a team of SDSU communication experts, who designed a social media campaign aimed at helping Native Americans on dialysis make informed decisions, which can include seeking a kidney transplant from a living donor.  

The campaign is part of a larger research project led by Fahrenwald to educate Native Americans about living kidney donation through the Collaborative Research Center for American Indian Health, which is supported by a grant from the National Institute on Minority Health and Disparities.

“This is a great way to educate the public, especially young people,” said Harming. “Rebecca is an artist and a scholar—what she develops and posts on social media is an art form.”

Fahrenwald and Harming provided the team with cultural perspectives and shared educational materials, including a brochure and video, that they developed and tested during the first three years of the project. Britt and her colleagues utilized feedback from Native Americans on dialysis who had previously participated in the project, to select the most impactful content for the social media campaign.

The campaign, which launched in November 2016, has been successful in the state, according to Britt, who designed the campaign, creating materials for Twitter and Facebook based on the original brochure and video.

The Facebook page Native Americans Sharing Hope and Healing through Living Kidney Donation, has seen the highest engagement levels, with some posts garnering more than 500 views and several reaching as many as 4,000 views, likes and clicks.

“People go to Facebook automatically,” Britt said. “It’s easy to see, like and share the posts.” The South Dakota Department of Health has promoted the campaign, which has also opened collaborative opportunities with other organizations promoting organ donation. National Donate Life month, a yearly nationwide observance in April, helped the researchers develop other social media partnerships.

Taking message to larger audience

Their success has led them to set the bar higher. “We were very fast and efficient—and now we want to target a national audience,” Harming explained.

Britt said, “We want to build on this momentum for future campaigns.” That means reaching Native American audiences across the nation and including information for families and friends who are potential donors.

Harming said, “Social media is limitless for its reach. It’s definitely the future.”

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Use Case: AI in Pharma - Finding Drug Side-effect Reviews in Social Media and Forums

Use Case: AI in Pharma - Finding Drug Side-effect Reviews in Social Media and Forums | Social Media and Healthcare |


Although the safety of drugs is tested during clinical trials, many adverse drug reactions (ADR) may only be revealed under certain circumstances, for instance: long-term use, when used in conjunction with other drugs or by people excluded from trials, such as children or pregnant women.

Nowadays consumers often report their experiences with ADR on social media instead of traditional channels, which makes drug safety surveillance systems less efficient.


Thanks to our solution, drug safety surveillance systems can be easily improved by incorporating the knowledge extracted from social media into them.

Our system enables fast scanning of various data resources, such as: Twitter, Facebook or forums posts.

Then, using state-of-the art Natural Language Processing techniques it filters out irrelevant information.
The remaining, relevant data is processed and certain entities, such as: drug name, ADR, pharmaceutical company name, person age and gender, are extracted and analyzed.

The last step is automatic report generation. The executive summary containing all found ADR and insights on how they occurred is created and could be used in further drug development.


  • More efficient identification of novel adverse drug reactions
  • Reducing cost of drug safety surveillance systems
  • Improving drug safety by finding potential ADR faster
  • Identified interactions could be used in further study and drug development


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Prescribing Social Media for Doctors - eHealth News ZA

Prescribing Social Media for Doctors - eHealth News ZA | Social Media and Healthcare |

A quick Q&A with Vanessa Carter to find out why and how doctors can leverage social media for their benefit and the benefit of patients

We sat down with Stanford University e-Patient Scholar and founder of Healthcare Social Media South Africa (#hcsmSA), Vanessa Carter, for a quick, five minute Q&A to find out why and how doctors can leverage social media for their benefit and the benefit of patients.

Why should busy doctors pay attention to social media in the first instance?

Social media isn’t the platform to publicly give medical advice or consult patients but it is a platform for doctors to stay up-to-date with the latest healthcare research and information, technology as well as to  share their own findings with their colleagues and quality information with the public.

Why wouldn’t they just use Google?

Search engines don’t reliably index information based on the latest published research nor do they reliably curate information based on credibility of the source. Doctors often say they don’t have time to be on social media but might spend hours searching on Google which given the volume of pages returned on each keyword they enter could be like looking for a needle in a haystack. By using Twitter for example and searching for information based on Symplur’s registered hashtags (over 15,000) doctors are able to find and disseminate information in a standardised way.

What about how patients use Google to self-diagnose? Let’s talk about Dr Google vs Dr 2.0.

Patients do have more access to health information, but so do doctors. I always say to patients that they should take their research and findings to their doctor for their professional opinion because not all information online is accurate. Trustworthy information is listed however it can be difficult to find because web 1.0 search engines like Google are currently badly structured to accommodate the growing web.

However platforms in the web version 2.0 landscape such as social networks, are more dynamic because content is user-generated and you can filter out a lot of the inaccurate information by following the right Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) as well as join  reputable communities and online groups. A good example of that is the #meded community on Twitter which focuses on the integration of technologies into medical education and who average around 500 – 1,500 Tweets per day around the world.

What do you predict for healthcare in the next 5 years?

We’re now moving to web version 3.0 that encompasses the Internet of Things (IoT), where wearables will become common place and the use of technologies like genomics and the web for patients to understand their health conditions is growing. Now image this, an e-Patient walks into a doctor’s office armed with Dr Google research, saying I found this on the internet, my wearable told me this, my EHR alerted me of that – what do you think doctor, or do you know a good app for that? Doctors have to be able to have that conversation. In parallel, patients need to listen and evaluate their data accordingly. If we want to make the transition from paternal to participatory health in future, we will need to make this cultural shift.

So if doctors are going to use social media as a search engine there’s a way to do it. What are the top four factors doctors should keep in mind, especially when starting out?

  • Know and use the right health hashtags. A comprehensive index is on Symplur.
  • Follow the right influencers, like Dr Bertalan Mesko (@berci) for example. Symplur displays KOLs of each community to help users connect to the right influencers as opposed to depending on random suggestions made by Twitter.
  • One way hashtags are being used is at conferences, this also enables doctors to follow live conversations at an event they couldn’t attend if delegates use the standard hashtag. Symplur also records conference data on transcript and makes it available publicly for free.
  • Join Twitter chats to stay up-to-date with advancements in your speciality. Reputable organisations like the Mayo Clinic and the CDC often host Twitter chats and doctors can build their global and local networks quickly when participating. A comprehensive list of global health Twitter chats is listed on Symplur.

Tell us when and how doctors can join the next #hcsmSA Twitter chats?

#hcsmSA hosts a monthly Twitter chat where we invite various stakeholders to participate, which provides a platform for doctors and patients to learn and share their perspectives about digital transformation as well as other issues pertaining to sustainable health development in South Africa. Our last chat on the 28th of November focussed on Cancer in South Africa. We pin the upcoming chats to our public profile on Twitter which can be visited here: After the chats we encourage members to disseminate quality information using the geo-hashtag so the community can grow.

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What Components Shape Digital Marketing In Healthcare?

What Components Shape Digital Marketing In Healthcare? | Social Media and Healthcare |

Digital marketing in the healthcare industry is just as disruptive as mobile apps and digital tools that have surfaced in this sector over the past few years. A strong healthcare marketing strategy can set you apart from the competition and position yourself to create the utmost patient engagement.

Once the industry started using big data to its operations, it created an opportunity to create more digital marketing efforts that providers can leverage to successfully execute a campaign.

“According to a recent study by Epocrates and other device manufacturers, 96 percent of physicians own smartphones and between 56 percent and 76 percent own tablets. Multiple studies have shown in-house physician smartphone use at approximately 80 percent.” Inc reports.

Why Digital Marketing Matters In Healthcare

More people are online more than ever, even doctors. This means that the healthcare industry must create digitally focused efforts in order to successfully reach a customer or audience.

“A recent report reveals that out of 20 searches on Google one search will be related to healthcare this is because, as a maximum number of people going online for information and searching for a solution for their health-related issues.” DigitalReady reports. 

Digital marketing in healthcare has to target an audience in order to spread a message or represent an initiative. Many private practices and large providers in healthcare use marketing to address what the organization stands for and can use campaigns to be interactive.

Marketing in healthcare can be tricky, because often times, the topics that are displayed through the campaigns are things that people don’t like to discuss, or normally, don’t approach on their own. Illness, cancer, unhealthy eating habits, are all negative things that although are necessary for patients to be aware of, can also be topics that are not easy to talk about. That is why when you are using marketing in healthcare it is important to make the message clear and transparent, to the point, and easy to understand.

According to Vi Marketing & Branding, the healthcare landscape has changed because: 

  1. Hospitals and other healthcare entities understand the power of a respected brand. The consumer has the power today because they have access to information. In this case, the capabilities of a hospital, infection rate, number of specialists, rankings, and other things that influence our opinion of a hospital. Hospitals know that if they don’t establish their position in the market, it will be done for them; by their competitors, through word-of-mouth, and by consumers who have data at their fingertips.
  2. The healthcare landscape has changed dramatically. With physician-owned hospitals and surgery centers that concentrate on specific medical specialties, minor emergency clinics, and large physician groups, consumers have a lot of choices, and sometimes their primary physician never plays into the equation. Medical tourism takes a share of the patient pie as well. Whether for a better price, a better facility, or a better doctor, consumers are willing to travel across the country to receive the healthcare they desire. Competition has never been more fierce.

Not only are the messages in healthcare hard to address through marketing, HIPAA compliance also comes into play. As we know, HIPAA puts restraints and guidelines for providers to follow, in order to create a clear and understood order in the industry. This means that patients and their information are protected, which means that they cannot appear in the digital marketing intiatives.

HIPAA prohibits the use of photos and patient testimonials in campaigns. Therefore, digital marketing intiatives must meet the requirements of the modern day healthcare landscape. Mastering a strategy that brings new leads while being creative is something that healthcare professionals will benefit from in the long run.

“The widespread distribution of digital technology has changed the nature of marketing. Businesses are now moving away from the distribution of massive, shotgun-style email campaigns and implementing targeted efforts aimed at getting in touch with more focused demographics. The healthcare industry historically has not been keeping pace with these developments. In fact, comparative research done by MarketingProfs shows it is about two years behind other industries.” Marketo reports. 

So, what exactly can healthcare professionals do to further implement marketing strategies?

Healthcare marketing has become more complex too. A high-tech, high-touch television campaign, billboards, and print ads no longer fill the need. Healthcare entities need to engage their prospects, not just push messages to them. Today, we use social media in several ways to position healthcare brands. We develop seminars so that prospects can learn and make choices. We use video to provide information. And a good, modern website is crucial to successful healthcare marketing today. All of these are great tools for building a healthcare brand. And that is what the consumer is buying, a brand.


You guessed it, content is a huge factor when it comes to marketing in healthcare. Like many other industries, the content that professionals put out surrounding marketing campaigns is a vital source of information that can increase SEO ratings, target the proper audience and just send an overall consistent message about the brand.

Creating new content is important as readers engage with your website. If you decide on a campaign, creating visual content around it can make it interesting, and worthwhile for your audience. This content must be valuable and credible, and most of all, engaging.

“It is impossible to build a successful strategy without the right online content,” Lugo said. “To succeed in today’s developing healthcare industry, physicians and hospital groups need to constantly produce new content that not only gets them found but also enables them to capture leads for new patients.” Inc. reports

Visual Content

It is no surprise that digital audiences are fixated on images and videos. Our society is constantly buffering information in and out of different platforms, sharing, liking, commenting, and most of this content, or the viral content, is visual. Visual components in content are attention-grabbing and will urge your customers to share and visit your website more frequently.

This content needs to be found easily through SEO, through the use of keywords attached to the visual components in order to increase search ranking.

Social Media

Yes, the healthcare industry can use social media to carry out digital campaigns as well. In fact, this form of communication is proven to be very successful while carrying out marketing initiatives.

“Social media can be used to engage with patients, support physicians, and improve population health outcomes. Healthcare social media marketing strategies may include participating in discussions, networking, and promoting information about population health.” Evariant reports. 

As far as healthcare professionals go, social media can be tricky territory. As discussed above, HIPAA plays a large role in the challenges that healthcare professionals face while using social media, but that doesn’t mean marketing efforts need to come to a halt.

Social media allows for communication tools that can be used among audiences and professionals in the field. It can be an effective outlet to deliver a message, gain an audience (Twitter followers help) or to simply be visible in the sector.

Not only do consumers get important health facts from social media, they also rely on social media to make decisions when it comes to their healthcare. This goes hand in hand with the content factor of the campaign. Professionals in the healthcare industry have an obligation to share informative, credible, up to date information with consumers on social media and beyond, especially during a marketing campaign. The truth goes a long way in healthcare.

Social media also can help reach a younger audience with marketing campaigns.

“18 to 24-year-olds are early adopters of social media and new forms of communication which makes it important for healthcare professionals to join in on these conversations where and when they are happening. Don’t move too slow or you risk losing the attention of this generation overtime.” Getreferralmd reports.


The Millennium Alliance is pleased to announce that application for our bi-annual Digital Healthcare Transformation Assembly is now open! Seats are reserved for the C-Level executives leading the digital healthcare revolution to come together on December 5-6, 2017.

With the failure of Trumpcare, the start of the Obamacare repeal process has been delayed, making the future of healthcare hard to predict. What is clear is that we are entering a time of uncertainty for both the industry and the patient. The need for customer-centric transformation is more vital than ever, to be open and transparent to patients as they navigate new policies. Healthcare systems and insurance carriers are being forced to respond to new demand rapidly.

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New law on cards for docs using social media - Pune Mirror -

New law on cards for docs using social media - Pune Mirror - | Social Media and Healthcare |

Fears over patients' private details being compromised; doctors themselves feel this is unnecessary

There may be doctors who pride themselves on posting details of rare surgeries they have conducted on social media sites. However, this results in the huge compromise of privacy for patients and their families. With this in mind, the Maharashtra Medical Council is working on a proposal to monitor posts put up by doctors on social media.

According to the medical council, the trend of posting these videos is already a trend in many countries. India, however, is working on laws on how to bring these posts under the ambit the law.

Medical Council of India (MCI) rules and regulations governing all doctors of modern medicine (2002 and amended up to 2009) states, 'There are many clauses and regulations about publicising patient information, photos, success stories, etc. Under no circumstances, should it amount to advertising or luring patients. This applies to social media as well like online platforms, WhatsApp and emails. Doctors should refrain even from having flashy boards outside their clinics. Keeping patient details confidential is the top priority. Except for approved medical journals, conferences or after a court order, the patient's identity cannot be revealed.'

Elaborating on the matter, Dr Jayant Navarange, head of the Indian Medical Association's (IMA) medicolegal cell, Pune Chapter, said, "In case of educational teaching programmes for medicos themselves, clips of live surgery or demonstrations can be done only for qualified doctors or nurses, with prior consent of the patient and maintaining confidentiality. Confidences concerning one's individual or domestic life entrusted by the patient to a physician, or defects in the disposition or character of patients observed during medical attendance should never be revealed unless required by the law."

Dr Mahesh Thombare, member of the Poona Surgical Society, echoed, "Electronic social media was not prevalent at the time, therefore specific provisions banning or restricting them were not a part of the rules. It remains a grey area. Many doctors publish photographs and case reports of their patients with permission in medical or other journals and on social media. According to medical ethics, if the identity is not disclosed, consent is not needed."

Dr Pravin Shingare, director of medical research and education (DMER) and executive committee member of the Maharashtra Medical Council, said, "The council does not take action against doctors as long as ethics are followed. However, there is a rise in the number of complaints where social media is used by doctors for advertising and to invite attention towards their skills and qualifications. But, we have limitations and cannot simply take action."Doctors themselves don't feel that a specific law is needed for their social media activities. Dr Sanjeev Jadhav, a multi-organ transplant surgeon, said, "The purpose of information technology is to share information, Knowledge can be used to spread further information. Anybody can access information from any part of the world and it should be taken in a positive manner. Most doctors follow the ethics code anyway."

Dr Bipin Vibhute, head of the liver disease department at Sahyadri Hospital, Deccan, said, "The surgery stories shared on social media are rare. We keep all the information of the patient confidential and it is not given or published in a move to advertise the hospital or the doctors. We always take written consent from the patient and information is made public only with the hope that it creates awareness and hope. Currently, many patients, too, are coming forward to share their information with the public."

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Determine your goals before choosing social media platform

Determine your goals before choosing social media platform | Social Media and Healthcare |

Seventy-five percent of adults use social media of some type, and 80% of users search for health information, according to the Pew Research Center. Among those ages 18-24, more than 80% would share health information on social media, and 90% would trust the information they see. Yet only 24% of physicians are using social media daily to post or seek medical information, a 2012 survey by PwC’s Health Research Institute showed.

As social media expert Charlene Li said, “Twitter is not a technology. It’s a conversation. And it’s happening with or without you.”

We must meet our patients and families where they are by becoming active in the digital space. Only then can we help ensure that they will find evidence-based information when they turn to the internet for medical advice. Yet the variety of platforms can be overwhelming, and it can be hard to know where to start.

When considering which platform or platforms are right for you, ask yourself these questions. Are you hoping to connect with colleagues or with patients and families? Are you more interested in curating and disseminating existing information or communicating nuanced personal thoughts and experiences? Will you check in for a short time every day or post less frequently but in more detail?

After you determine the approach you want to take, consider what each social networking platform can offer. For most people, tackling all of them at once is not recommended. Being thoughtful about your ideal social media experience and intentional about your approach can make your digital life easier, more fulfilling and best convey the authentic you.


Facebook remains the most popular social media platform overall, with 79% of online adults in the U.S. using it and over 2 billion users worldwide. Therefore, it is the easiest place to start getting name and face recognition in your community.

Facebook allows for discussion/dialogue with other users. You can create longer posts, share visual material (photos, videos, infographics) and link to other content. You can schedule posts ahead of time and/or post spontaneously. It also is relatively easy to curate your posts so that viewers get a clear snapshot of your point of view quickly.

Facebook may be more suited to interacting with patients/families than with colleagues.

As with all social media accounts, your professional Facebook page should be separate from a personal account or page.


There are more than 320 million active users on Twitter, but the number of those seeing content may be higher since tweets can be viewed without having an account. About 6,000 new tweets are posted every second. That’s 500 million per day.

Users can share the same type of material as on Facebook (visual media, links to content, etc.), but they are limited to 280 characters. Therefore, context and detailed discussions are harder.

You may be more likely to interact with colleagues, health care systems and media here than on Facebook. Non-medical users engaging with you on Twitter are more likely to be strangers than people in your community or patients/families.

Twitter is ideal for real-time, rapid dissemination of information. It’s a great place to track current/active topics and share timely content such as public health information with a wide audience.

However, it’s not the platform for you if you want to check in once a week and schedule posts ahead of time (you can do this … they’re just less likely to be relevant when they finally post).


Each month, 56 million blogs are posted on WordPress (a website platform) alone.

Blogs allow for longer posts than other social media platforms. Therefore, you can express your point of view in a more complete, nuanced way. They can be a good forum for thorough discussions of heated/complicated issues (vaccine hesitancy, circumcision) or personal perspectives.

However, blogs require more setup than Facebook and Twitter accounts.


These platforms are largely pictorial/image-based with less opportunity for written discussion. They are less useful for professional purposes, at least as a starting place.

Wherever you start, don’t forget to frequently reassess what’s working for you and what isn’t. Pay attention to what gets good engagement vs. what content just sits on your page. Evaluate whether your platform of choice is playing to your strengths and allowing you to engage with your intended audience. Take a digital detox whenever you need to.

Most importantly, have fun and spread the evidence-based information you are so expert in.

Dr. Meade is a member of the AAP Council on Communications and Media.

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How to Use Social Media Insights to Drive Patient Engagement and Donor Retention  

How to Use Social Media Insights to Drive Patient Engagement and Donor Retention   | Social Media and Healthcare |

The modern healthcare market is a competitive environment in which hospital foundations need to compete for donors. These donors are smart, mobile and social-savvy. They have an abundance of choices as to where they want to contribute and how often. 

There are ways to gauge what your donors are saying and address them according to their preferences. Your foundation should be applying social media strategies to not only retain current donors, but recruit new donors as well. 

Tips to Incorporate Social Insights into Your Strategy 

Social listening tools can help inform communications for your strategy while offering powerful opportunities for real time, personalized multi-channel engagement.  

1. Monitor Your Reputation  

It is essential to know and understand what people are saying about your organization in real time. You need to be able to screen positive and negative influences as it relates to your foundation and respond on a personal level. If you utilize a multi-channel engagement tool you’ll be able to regulate your brand perception across all media instantaneously and seamlessly.  

An unhappy family member of a patient has posted on Twitter, mentioning they will no longer support the philanthropic side of the hospital due to a recent circumstance. You can immediately respond to them to learn more about the problem and work to resolve it with the patient and family. 

2. Identify Topics & Trends 

The healthcare giving landscape is changing rapidly, and social media plays a critical role in understanding how individuals are talking about their communities, their preferences and even your foundation. If you notice a trend in conversations, seize the moment and send an email or social post when the issue is most likely to gain traction. Social listening can help you understand what your donors want to hear so you can tailor your communications to get their attention.  

You may identify that a large group of your patients are enthusiastic about an upcoming road race and therefore, promoting that your foundation is hosting a tent at the finish line is a smart strategy. 

3. Customize Interactions 

Customize your nonprofit digital marketing campaigns based on activity or interests to create a brand experience that is personal and engaging. Social listening can help you understand what your people want to hear so you can create communications that get their attention. Instead of sending mass emails to your entire patient and donor population with content that may only be relevant to few, break down your population into segments to increase the chance your messages resonate. When the recipients feel that your message is personally for them, they are more likely to have a positive perception of your foundation and are more likely to interact with you in the future.  

You can create a campaign contest that gives donors and patients the opportunity to share their favorite caretaker story to increase engagement and lead those to gift consideration. 

4. Find Influencers 

Discover social influencers already in your database and engage them through meaningful interaction and nurturing, ultimately extending your reach. These influencers can be current donors, former patients or foundation staff members. Creating a strong influencer program is one of the best ways to reach their large social networks and encourage specific interactions with your organization. Your efforts are multiplied with the assistance of even a few social media influencers. 

You find that several of your annual event committee members are active responders on Twitter and have large social networks that follow them. Invite them to become a part of your influencer program and gain access to their network as well. Pushing out strategic content to them for sharing also helps get your specific message out to the right targets.  

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Using Social Media Big Data to Combat Prescription Drug Crisis

Using Social Media Big Data to Combat Prescription Drug Crisis | Social Media and Healthcare |

Researchers at Dartmouth, Stanford University, and IBM Research, conducted a critical review of existing literature to determine whether social media big data can be used to understand communication and behavioral patterns related to prescription drug abuse. Their study found that with proper research methods and attention to privacy and ethical issues, social media big data can reveal important information concerning drug abuse, such as user-reported side effects, drug cravings, emotional states, and risky behaviors.

Their work, “Scaling Up Prescription Drug Abuse and Addiction Research Through Social Media Big Data,” is reported in the Journal of Medical Internet Research

Prescription drug addiction is a well-known nationwide problem. Many people who are unable to get help for their addiction seek out peer support groups on Facebook or other social media platforms to share stories about their experiences and also provide social peer-based support.

Lead author, Sunny Jung Kim, PhD, an e-health communication scholar in the departments of biomedical data science and psychiatry at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine, says that because we are prolific consumers of social media, which is not limited to geography—globally, people spend more than two hours every day on social media platforms generating vast amounts of big data about our personal communications and activities—we can use these platforms to enhance public health communication strategies to help people on a large scale.

“Harnessing social media platforms and data can provide insight into important novel discoveries of collective public health risk behavior, a better understanding of peoples’ struggles with addiction, and their process of recovery,” Kim says. “I started this project because there were few studies about why people use social networking sites to share unsolicited, highly personal information about their drug use, nor about the psychological effects or consequences of this type of user-generated communication.”

Co-author Jeffrey Hancock, PhD, a professor in the department of communication and the director of computational social science at Stanford University, says, “Given the importance of this problem for the U.S. population, it’s imperative that we understand how social media is playing a role and how it can be part of the solution.”

Based on their findings, the researchers designed an evidence-based, multi-level framework to inform future social media-based substance use prevention and recovery intervention programs.

“Our review and typology suggests that social media big data and platforms can be a tremendous resource for monitoring and intervening on behalf of people with drug addiction and abuse problems,” Kim says.

About the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth

Founded in 1797, the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth strives to improve the lives of the communities it serves through excellence in learning, discovery, and healing. The Geisel School of Medicine is renowned for its leadership in medical education, health care policy and delivery science, biomedical research, global health, and in creating innovations that improve lives worldwide. As one of America’s leading medical schools, Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine is committed to training new generations of diverse leaders who will help solve our most vexing challenges in health care.


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Overcoming Social Media Anxiety in Healthcare Marketing

Overcoming Social Media Anxiety in Healthcare Marketing | Social Media and Healthcare |

Social media is an anxiety producing endeavor for drug manufactures and healthcare providers, which is why so few even bother to enter this space. However, recent studies indicate that social media is on the move as the industry learns to adapt to vague FDA regulations and discovers the true nature of social behavior.

It’s not even close

Social media is not an ideal platform for drug manufacturers and healthcare providers – it’s not even close. To begin with, the character count on Twitter – at 140 characters – is too slim to fully disclose a drugs benefits and side-effects in a way that will satisfy FDA regulations. While the FDA is somewhat behind the times on issuing policy on pharmaceutical brand ads, it’s 2014 decree indicated that the same basic rules of marketing should apply to social media, too – meaning drug benefits and risks must be clearly disclosed despite the micro-blogging constructs of social media.

Additionally, the social medium creates unregulated discussion that can be unpredictable, negative, misleading or reflect non-scientific conclusions by patients under care. Plus, you’re not wanting to be drawn into two-way conversations online that puts you in a doctor’s advisory role or at risk of violating patient privacy. This could tarnish or mischaracterize your brand. This is all simply to say that your social anxiety is justified.

Despite this, there is a growing number of healthcare providers are turning to social media. In fact, there are currently 334 brands on Twitter, 223 on Facebook, 149 on YouTube and 37 on LinkedIn. (Klick Health, 2017)

So why is social media usage among pharmaceutical and healthcare providers growing?

A recent study claims that 40% of consumers say information found on social media effects the way they deal with their health (Mediabistro). Furthermore, formulary decision-makers at hospitals, IDNs, PBMs, MCOs and ACOs spend as much as 3-hours per day using digital resources to inform their committee work. As for doctors, 60% say social media improves the quality of care delivered to patients. There is more impressive data here, but in terms of reaching an audience, social media’s growing power is undisputed.

They call it a social network for a reason

The feel the motives around social strategy have changed in recent years. There was an inclination to treat Twitter and Facebook as just another advertising publisher or platform, but that’s not the true spirit of social. Social is about sharing and reacting to information. It’s a place where we can participate in discussion. An effective solution is for a brand to associate their treatment with a cause through which a community can be built. For example, when Key Opinion Leader’s become advocates for a treatment instead of simply selling their drug benefits, the dialogue on social media evolves in a more meaningful and human way.

Brands need to build a community through published content and use social platforms to promote the content in paid and non-paid ways. If a social follower encounters a sponsored post about declining health in Alzheimer’s’ patients, they may move to take action in the cause. They may click the ad or post and join the community that the brand is building around a new efficacy or treatment. This may inspire online participation as a family member of someone stricken with Alzheimer’s, as a medical advocate, as a new customer or patient, or simply a recipient of research and thought leadership provided by the brand. This is particularly the case for doctors and formulary decision-makers wanting to educate themselves on prescribed treatments. In growing a community over time with published content and steady social promotion, drug benefits from the brand awareness and avoids the negative trappings that made social so prone to anxiety in the past.

Similarly, the FDA made its 2014 recommendation that social posts include a link taking the reader to additional information that can better advise on a drugs risk and benefits. The natural behavior here is to begin engagement on social, but move the conversation to a website or online journal via a link where long-format information can be shared.

Join the movement or get left behind

There are plenty reasons not to participate in social media, however the upside of cause-based marketing is far more compelling to not be involved. Here are some things you can do today to join the movement:

  • Create a cause around the cure, the disease, or the problem you are solving.
  • View social as a means to directing traffic to your website, online journal or community forum.
  • Integrate paid and non-paid posts in spreading your message. Your authentic brand voice matters and your customers want to hear from you.
  • Work with legal counsel to develop a social policy at your company. Be mindful of FDA regulations at all times.
  • Be a social listener on Twitter, Facebook, and on patient forums such as Learn about the things they care about and let them influence your cause.

Lori Goldberg is CEO of Silverlight Digital. 

Silverlight Digital is a New York-based digital media agency that adopts a consultative approach to helping healthcare and pharmaceutical brands reach their desired audience online. Working directly with brands and their agency counterparts, Silverlight leverages its programmatic and aggregate campaign data to make smart multi-channel buying decisions, while partnering with brand managers to successfully navigate FDA and legal review processes. As a Premiere Google and Bing Partner, Silverlight Digital receives tier one support from publishers and through direct site partnerships and hosts a popular healthcare client round table at Google’s New York offices each year. In 2017, Silverlight Digital was added to the exclusive Medical Marketing & Media list of top digital agencies.

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Digital Marketing Strategies for Health Professionals

Digital Marketing Strategies for Health Professionals | Social Media and Healthcare |

In this ever-changing landscape of the healthcare industry, patients are using the internet more than ever before to do research on health services, health professionals, and even health conditions. Health professionals want their patients to have access to credible, reliable, and important information, as it relates to their health. However, with this communication channel being open worldwide, local health professionals and hospitals struggle in the competitive atmosphere. Let’s discuss what is most important in the healthcare industry as it relates to digital marketing.


Having a responsive website is at the center-point of all digital marketing initiatives.  The website should be informative, engaging, and resource-rich.  With the population relying heavily on their mobile devices, it is also critical that the website is responsive and mobile-friendly.  From links to articles, biographical information on staff, to online forms, maps to locations, this is just the start for a strong website in the healthcare industry.  Many health professionals, however, are also considered with patient security and HIPPA regulations.  Having a password protected area for patient information should be a consideration, as well as a patient-portal login.

The website can also be used for a communication channel to let patients know about important updates on their health and their community.  Feeding information from social media channels, blogs, and news outlets onto the website creates patient loyalty.  The website should feature videos, images, slideshows and provide a credible location for information. The site should also inspire patients to subscribe to an email newsletter, further engaging and communicating with them about their health and well-being.

A patient’s time is as valuable to them as the health professionals time. Being able to offer relevant information for patients on a website, social media channels,and accessible through mobile devices is important, so patients feel that their needs can be regardless of the time they are in their health professional’s care.

“Live video speaks louder than text. Internet technology now supports online video delivery, with far more available options than YouTube. What’s more, video has a stronger audience appeal (about four to one) than text. Contemporary healthcare marketing can share stories by way of video content and live streaming video on websites, blogs and by way of social media platforms. The advantages include timeliness, immediacy and educational impact.” (

Content becomes necessary to develop, curate, or even aggregate.  Having a content marketing strategy is important for your all of your digital and communication channels: website, emails, social media sites, and blogs.  With all of this content, it will also improve your search rankings, which we will discuss next.


According to a Think with Google study, 84% of patients use both online and offline sources for hospital research. Likewise, search drives nearly 3x as many visitors to hospital sites compared to non-search visitors, and 44% of patients who research hospitals on a mobile device scheduled an appointment. “It is impossible to build a successful SEO strategy without the right content. To succeed in today’s developing healthcare industry, companies need to constantly produce new content that not only gets them found but also enables them to capture leads.” (

Think with Google’s ‘The Digital Journey to Wellness: Hospital Selection’

  • Search engines are used by 77% of the patients before booking appointments.
  • Search drives nearly 3 times as many visitors to hospital sites as compared to the number of visitors from other affiliate/referral sites.
  • 44% of patients schedule an appointment who research hospitals on a mobile device.
  • The decision process is empowered by digital content.

Before booking an appointment –

  • 77% of patients use search.
  • 26% used reviews generated by consumers.
  • 50% used health information sites.
  • 54% of the patients used health insurance company sites.
  • 83% used hospital sites.


Search Engine Marketing

Patients are searching online, so there must be a strategy in place.  And while website page titles, descriptions, and keyword-rich content is important, it’s still a highly competitive space.  With small practices competing with hospitals with healthy budgets, paid search marketing is a valuable way to increase search and social presence.  With a high return on investment, Google AdWords and Facebook Ad programs, deliver the right message to the right audience at the right time, making them highly effective.  Managing a program like this can be done within the office, but it is advised to work with a professional firm that understands how to increase the program’s performance, while maximizing the budget.

Online Reputation Management

Lastly, with patient’s ability to openly comment online, an online reputation management strategy should be considered as well.  Where is the practice or hospital mentioned?  What information do listing services provide?  Is it correct?  And what are people saying about products, services, the staff, the location, the facility online?  Online reviews are of supreme importance when it comes to selecting a health professional and office to visit.  Patients want to feel comfortable in their selection.  

In Conclusion

So whether it’s a hospital, small family practice, dental office, or an allied health professional, such as a chiropractor, massage therapist, or acupuncturist, digital marketing must be at the forefront of the patient/client acquisition conversation.  Once there is a solid foundation for content, it is imperative to be found and maintain a good perception in the community. For those health professional offices that are evaluating their current strategy and looking for ways to maximize their online presence without an enormous cost, we welcome you to a free consultation on what services you may be missing and how we can find solutions for those needs.  Contact us today to set-up a free digital marketing consultation with one of our specialists.

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5 Facts & Figures You Should Know About Healthcare Social Media (Infographic)

5 Facts & Figures You Should Know About Healthcare Social Media (Infographic) | Social Media and Healthcare |
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Doctors take various tacks to combat negative reviews

Doctors take various tacks to combat negative reviews | Social Media and Healthcare |


n oft-used maxim in U.S. health care is that patients ought to be treated more like consumers. Their feedback about medical services should be valued, and they should be given a chance to express their concerns.

But with more patients speaking up — via hospital surveys and third-party rating websites — inevitable tensions are emerging. Negative comments sting. Doctors targeted by them get angry. And in some cases, the feedback from patients gets labeled something else entirely: defamation.

A steady drip of legal disputes over online reviews is putting those tensions on display. In Texas, a pair of freestanding emergency rooms recently filed a legal petition seeking to force Google to share the identities behind 22 screen names connected to negative comments about the providers’ services.In another closely watched lawsuit, a plastic surgeon in Cleveland is suing a patient over negative reviews she posted on RealSelf and other sites. The dispute is unusual in that it may actually proceed to trial (most get settled), potentially leading to an influential precedent.

Participants in the doctor rating business say those cases are flashpoints in an inevitable, if messy, transition to a more open marketplace. And while some providers are balking at unfavorable reviews, other hospitals are taking a counterintuitive approach to the problem — calling for more reviews, and posting them on the hospital’s own site. That effort aims in part to put negative ratings in context. It’s also a way to deliver a more straightforward message to physicians: If you don’t want negative comments, do your job better.

“The big impact [of reviews] is on the people being measured, not so much on the consumer,” said Dr. Thomas Lee, chief medical officer for the patient survey company Press Ganey. “It makes people raise their game.”

University of Utah was the first hospital to begin posting unedited patient comments online in late 2012. Since then, dozens of hospitals have followed suit, including Cleveland Clinic, Duke, Geisinger of Pennsylvania, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

Some critics of publicly airing patient comments argue that they put doctors in an untenable position. Due to federal privacy laws, doctors cannot respond in a way that would compromise patient confidentiality, leaving them with limited ability to rebut complaints. Physicians are also uniquely vulnerable to public criticism, given the deliberateness most people take in choosing where to get health care.

So, many providers, including the University of Utah, give physicians an opportunity to review their comments — and to appeal to an internal committee to get them tossed out if a doctor can show a comment is particularly unfair or untruthful.

In some ways, hospitals’ decision to post more reviews is an act of self-preservation amid a dawning reality: Their doctors were already getting publicly rated on third-party sites like Healthgrades, Vitals, RateMDs and others. In many cases, such sites only feature a handful of comments on a given doctor. If one or two are negative, it’s easy for doctors to feel they are being presented unfairly.


Although third-party sites themselves are shielded from liability, the individual commenters are not. Libel lawsuits remain rare. More common are threatening letters from doctors and their attorneys seeking to pressure commenters into removing or retracting their statements. Last year, Aaron Schur, senior director of litigation at Yelp, testified before Congress that the company regularly receives supboenas from plaintiffs involved in an array industries who want to get Yelp users’ personal information to press their legal claims.

In testifying for greater protections for consumers, Schur cited a letter from one Yelp user who said he removed his comment — even though he maintained its truthfulness — after a dentist sued him for $100,000.

Though effective in some instances, such tactics are often expensive and risky, especially if they lead to litigation. Dr. Jeffrey Segal said there are more effective ways to respond. Instead of fighting negative comments, he said, providers ought to solicit more of them.

“I call it the denominator problem,” said Segal, chief executive of eMerit, which helps doctors collect and post reviews from patients. He said doctors who feel their reputation is being harmed by a few negative comments can combat the problem by opening the floodgates to all commenters.

It’s a tack that a wide variety of businesses — from hair salons to laundromats — have taken in the online era of “reputation management”: hiring firms to help solicit good reviews or respond to consumers who leave negative ones. As the health profession belatedly embraces online reviews, a number of firms have sprouted up specializing in just this kind of digital spruce-up.


Segal said his company does not screen patient comments or advise that only positive reviews be posted. He said that would quickly undermine their credibility, causing consumers to pass them off as marketing puffery.

Segal, who also founded Medical Justice, a firm that helps doctors deter frivolous malpractice suits, is among many doctors who have done an about-face on the value of patient comments. He said he initially thought they offered limited value in improving quality, while giving disgruntled patients a chance to take potshots.

Then he started to look into it more deeply. Examining data from insurance carriers on specific procedures, he found a high correlation between the outcomes data and what patients were saying about the doctors online. “I went from being opposed to it, to figuring out how to do it better,” Segal said of online reviews.

He acknowledged lawsuits will continue. But he cautions doctors not to file the kind of frivolous claims he spent so much energy trying to protect them from. “Litigation is probably something that should be used sparingly, infrequently, and with full eyes open,” Segal said. “There probably are occasional circumstances where it probably is [warranted], particularly if your practice is clearly damaged. But those are the exception. They’re not the rule.”

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Twitter for Health Advocates - basic to advanced

I presented this session at the Food Allergy Bloggers Conference in Denver, Colorado in November 2017. This includes an overview of Twitter for people new to t…
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Desperate #UnemployedDoctors turn to social media

Desperate #UnemployedDoctors turn to social media | Social Media and Healthcare |

Frustrated medical students are using social media, under the hashtag #UnemployedDoctors, to complain about their uncertain futures.

Nearly 300 final-year students have not been placed for internships next year.

Minister of Health Aaron Motsoaledi is backing them, placing the blame on three major provinces that have failed to fund the internships.


One of these students is Ryan Jacobs, who wants to become a neurosurgeon but instead finds himself in limbo.

He decided medicine was his calling after having surgery that stopped his epileptic seizures. 

"My degree was a seven-year degree at Stellenbosch, so a lot of blood, sweat and tears, lots of late nights, lots and lots of tears. There were times when I thought it would never get to this point,” he said.

The Junior Doctors Association (Judasa) said the shortage of internships was a crisis. 

"We are sitting with more than 600 (final-year) medical students and second-year interns who are not placed for next year. This means that our community in South Africa, which has one of the highest patient to doctor ratios, currently has a deficit of 600 junior doctors," said Judasa secretary-general Michael van Niekerk.

Motsoaledi said provinces had a statutory obligation to fund posts.

"The provinces must create those jobs in those hospitals depending on the accreditation numbers by the Health Professions Council of South Africa because internship is still training.

"The provinces that have to carry huge numbers of interns are the Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. If those provinces don’t budge then you experience a problem. I have been telling them that they have to fill those posts.” 

Motsoaledi threatened to take legal action if these provinces did not act.

"If it means taking some province to court, which will be embarrassing, I will have to do so and say, 'This province is refusing to meet its statutory obligations, what do I do?' But I am hoping it won't come to that."

The Western Cape Health Department said it had allocated seven more posts but was awaiting further funds from Treasury.

eNCA is still waiting for comment from the other provincial departments of health.

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Fundamentals of a 21st Century e-Patient

Presentation at the National Health Laboratory Services (NHLS) in Johannesburg, South Africa about the Fundamentals of a 21st Century e-Patient
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Pharma Marketing: Reaching Providers and Consumers Anywhere, Anytime |

Pharma Marketing: Reaching Providers and Consumers Anywhere, Anytime | | Social Media and Healthcare |

Many of us have seen the standard drug ad on TV or in magazines. Or maybe you’ve heard a doctor pitch a new drug at a conference on behalf of a drug manufacturer.

Pharmaceutical companies have historically invested huge amounts of money on television, print advertising, and getting medical providers to speak on their behalf at events. These traditional approaches to pharmaceutical marketing have helped the industry reach millions, if not billions, of consumers.

Last year, the industry spent $5.2 billion on advertising. But while marketing budgets continue to increase, not every pharma brand is taking full advantage of digital. According to a Medical Marketing & Media (MM&M) survey, 59 percent of marketers say they use websites, 45 percent use social media, 32 percent use digital ads, and 20 percent use mobile apps for their marketing efforts.

These figures indicate more than half of marketers are underutilizing several key digital channels. However, digital is gradually changing the dynamics of pharma marketing and will propel the pharmaceutical industry to rethink its usual way of doing business.

Digital marketing tools, from behavior-based targeted advertising to customized healthcare portals, can help pharma marketers develop more engaging experiences for doctors and patients alike — all without using protected health information or personally identifiable information. Digital disruption is happening in every industry, but for pharma brands to successfully navigate this transformation, they must position themselves to meet changing consumer expectations and to reach both consumers and healthcare providers across channels and devices anywhere and anytime.

The shift toward personalization.
With companies like Apple, Amazon, and Netflix now setting the bar for customer experience, consumers in non-retail sectors now expect a retail-like experience whenever they engage with a brand.

These increased expectations also have taken hold in the healthcare and pharma industries, and with more digital tools at consumers’ fingertips than ever, they can be even more selective about where they access health information and to which companies they devote their loyalty.

Forty-one percent of Americans search online for health information, and digital savvy consumers are more than two times as likely to say their healthcare quality has increased due to their digital engagement, according to a 2016 Adobe Digital Insights U.S. Digital Health Survey

“If pharma companies are attempting to reach patients or consumers, digital channels are where those consumers are, where they’re conducting their research, and where they want to be engaged,” says Tom Swanson, head of Healthcare Industry Strategy at Adobe.

And it’s not only consumers who want to be engaged on these channels, healthcare providers (HCPs) do, too. Forty-nine percent of healthcare professionals spend four to five hours a day on their digital devices conducting research or engaging with their peers, according to Digital Insights data.

“If pharmaceutical companies are going to reach doctors and nurses and other practitioners, they need to do it via mobile-enabled websites, apps, and the same way that you would attempt to reach your over-the-counter consumers,” Tom says.

The challenge and promise of digital for pharma marketers.
Digital has several advantages for pharma marketers. For one, it costs considerably less than traditional marketing approaches they’ve used in the past. It’s also more targeted and has a wider reach than a print advertisement in a journal, printed sales material, or even paid speaker programs. However, research shows that even with all these advantages, many pharma marketers aren’t yet willing to let go of some of their tried-and-true marketing approaches.

According to the MM&M survey, 80 percent of marketers targeting HCPs in 2015 said they relied on meetings and events, 64 percent used printed sales materials, 57 percent used patient education materials, and 50 percent relied on paid speaker programs.

These figures aren’t entirely surprising. Pharma marketers have several specific marketing challenges. For one, the complexity of their audience makes targeting more difficult. Pharma brands have to market over-the-counter products to retail consumers, as well as reach prescription-based consumers and healthcare professionals — a group that includes everyone from physicians to nurses, biotech companies, and hospital groups.

“It’s no longer that you just have messaging to a doctor and messaging to a patient. You have to tell all kinds of different stories,” Tom says.

Add to that the friction between tailored messaging and regulatory requirements around the use of personal health information, and pharma brands are in a challenging position to deliver on the personalized interactions that consumers increasingly expect. Sixty-three percent of consumers are comfortable sharing personal information with healthcare companies to get a personalized experience. However, pharmaceutical companies are hindered around what they can market and how they can communicate with customers based on HIPAA requirements, forcing consumers to opt-in or authenticate themselves, which adds another barrier to sharing relevant information.

Still, some pharma brands are finding ways to tackle this challenge — and they’re relying on content customized healthcare portals and other digital tools to do it.

Driving digital engagement with providers and consumers.
Pharma brands are using digital to make their relationship with consumers more service-oriented. Novartis, for example, faced criticism for what consumers and doctors viewed as negative advertisements for its new heart failure drug.

To overcome this, the company partnered with the American Heart Association (AHA) to do media outreach events and to distribute targeted content on AHA’s website. Novartis also went a step further and created a social network specifically for heart failure patients, which provides educational resources for these patients and credible content from medical experts.

Other pharma brands are using customer relationship management systems (CRM) to get a more unified view of their customers and to deliver relevant messages, medication samples, and resources to HCPs and patients — an approach that can drive more growth, deeper customer engagement, and brand loyalty. CRMs rely on data to power customized experiences. So as pharma brands leverage new digitals tools to organize this information, data security must be a priority.

“One of the things that we’re going to see is this massive influx of data from a variety of touch points and pharmaceutical companies — like every other healthcare company — are going to have to figure out ways to use it within the bounds of regulatory compliance,” Tom says.

Fortunately, cloud-based technology solutions can help pharma brands gather, and safely store, this data. This data-driven approach can help pharma brands amass more analytics on performance and customer behavior, so they can measure and improve the effectiveness of their campaigns, and ensure they deliver the right content to the right audience.

Creating customized healthcare portals.
This customer-centric strategy is especially important as pharmaceutical companies create customized healthcare portals to reach healthcare providers and consumers.

Similar to Novartis’ social network, customized healthcare portals allow pharma brands to directly engage with their target audience. With healthcare providers, these portals allow pharma companies to gain more insight into who the provider is, their order history, and their medical specialty, so they can deliver tailored content to the provider through the portal — whether it’s information on the newest blood pressure medication for a cardiologist or upcoming clinical trials for new immunotherapy drugs that an oncologist may want to share with patients.

“One of the things that we’re seeing a lot of is that pharmaceutical companies will completely tailor the content to the individual because they are authenticated and they know exactly who it is that they’re talking to,” Tom says. “That’s playing a huge role — this idea of customized web pages within authenticated portals. Pharma companies also can achieve this same level of customization via mobile applications, where a doctor can log in to his or her portal and instantly see the stuff that interests them — such as new samples, training, or educational materials and patient adherence tools.”

Pharma companies increasingly recognize that these portals have a unique value, which is creating opportunities for authenticated engagement with healthcare providers.

Collaboration and evolving industry regulations.
The industry is also trying to address the challenge of digital transformation by creating open technology standards to make it easier for pharmaceutical companies to share treatment information with doctors. The pharmaceutical industry has created Align Biopharma, a standards group, to align identity management and authentication with rules of engagement for HCPs, so that there’s either one common portal doctors can access or a standard for customized healthcare portals so they all operate a similar way, can share authenticated identities, and are easy for HCPs to navigate.

“It’s very forward thinking in that pharmaceutical companies realize that to get better engagement, they all have to work together to provide the best possible experience for the doctor versus continuing to try to protect their proprietary approach of communication,” Tom says.

Efforts to create an industry standard are ongoing, but in the meantime we could see a shift — driven by consumer demand — that leads to a more flexible regulatory environment. The Prescription Drug User Fee Act (PDUFA), for example, which is set to be renewed in 2018, now calls for pharmaceutical companies to digitally engage with patients during clinical trials. This means these companies will need to collect patient-specific information as part of the drug approval process, and much of this information will come from digital devices. Clinical trials, technically, already have an opted-in, authenticated audience. Doing this process digitally will lead to improved monitoring, auditing, and deeper insights into healthcare outcomes,. So in the future, government regulators will become more comfortable with pharmaceutical companies relying on digital across all interactions with consumers and providers.

Like many industries, the pharmaceutical industry has an entrenched way of doing things. Want to market to healthcare providers? Engage them at conferences, send a sales rep to their office, or launch a paid speaker program. Looking to expand your customer base? Pay millions of dollars for print and TV advertising.

But as consumers and doctors alike increasingly move to digital to get their health information and connect with likeminded groups, companies also need to transition to these channels to reach these audiences. As pharmaceutical companies continue to spend billions of dollars on research and development for new drugs, increasing the effectiveness of their marketing campaigns will be critical to lowering customer acquisition and retention costs. Digital can be the means for pharmaceutical brands to accomplish this. Ultimately, they need to wholeheartedly — and strategically — embrace this transformation.

Read more about new marketing approaches in the industry by exploring Adobe’s healthcare content from Adobe’s healthcare team.

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Digital Marketing for Healthcare Industry 

Result driven with over 6+ years of experience in Digital Marketing. Skilled in training workforce and achieve organizational targets. Hands-on experience in m…
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Facebook Ad Transparency – Pharma Implications 

Facebook Ad Transparency – Pharma Implications  | Social Media and Healthcare |

Facebook is working hard to improve its public reputation regarding ads on the platform in the aftermath of the Russian political interference scandal. This work has centered on how to give the audience the tools needed to determine whether or not to trust the information being promoted to them.

For the first time as a species, humans live in a world where information is abundant. The history of human civilization is very much one of political and physical expansion shaped by the available communication technology as detailed in Harold Innis’ “Empire and Communications.” From the clay tablets of the Sumerians that allowed for commerce to the papyrus scrolls of the Romans that allowed their empire to grow communication technologies have always influenced how we live.

Now we’re no longer worried about clay or papyrus, our medium is the internet and it has democratized the way we communicate. This hand-off of information control from the gatekeepers of the past to the general population has had some unintended side effects. Now the minority voices can be more easily found and heard and this has helped many groups advocate for their issues but it has also enabled fringe groups to do the same (everyone’s definition of “minority” and “fringe” varies but all will probably agree there is a spectrum).

One issue that has come to light is the organized and financially funded promotion of misinformation online, especially from Russia. These campaigns of politically-charged ads have been the subject of FBI, DOJ, and Congressional investigation. All of the major internet networks – Facebook, Google, Twitter, and others – have been investigating their systems for evidence of illegal use and have been disclosing what they find to the investigators.

Facebook is the first platform to really sink its teeth into the problem and come up with solutions. The company has already hired 1,000 more ad reviewers to manage the system but it is also changing its core system to give users the opportunity to see for themselves what Facebook advertisers are up to. There are three elements of these changes that will matter to pharma marketers and while may impact how brands work with their regulatory groups.


With the increased enforcement there may be worry that more ads will be rejected or have their reach limited. This worry seems to be unfounded because well-crafted pharma ads have a long track record of effective Facebook use. All current Facebook campaigns that are managed by pharma-experienced agencies follow the important rules:

  • Cannot imply that the user has a particular health condition
  • Cannot target users based on liking 3rd party pages
  • Must tell user to talk to their doctor (cannot promote sale of drug)

All well-run pharma campaigns already follow these rules plus all the non-pharma ones such as the infamous 20% text rule.


An upcoming change that will most certainly matter to brand marketers and their regulatory groups is the addition of the Information button to Facebook ads. This change was announced October 7 and will be adding information to users’ views of ads. Current information is that the information will be gathered from either the Facebook Page and/or Wikipedia. The source of the information will be of utmost importance to the regulatory teams and the FDA in interpreting who “owns” it and therefore who is responsible for it.


Once these updates are complete, with rollout scheduled for Q1 2018, users will be able to review background information about an ad. We don’t have a lot of detail, but based on the Oct 7 post from Facebook it looks like the content will come from a combination of:

  • The profile photo and Page title
  • The Page “About” information (possibly)
  • A Wikipedia entry about the page (if it exists)

Here are some screens from the Facebook description video that show what the posts will look like on mobile:

How the audience will be able to get more information on Facebook sponsored posts


Context can make all the difference for conversations like this. Brand marketers should approach their regulatory groups ASAP so that the groups can prepare for this change. Some points we would suggest for those meetings are:

  • Ensure there is a social expert in the room so that most questions can be answered immediately with as little follow up as possible because that will instill confidence that the team knows what’s going on with these changes.
  • Highlight that the content being displayed is out of the Page’s control and, just like other unrelated content on Facebook, should not be considered as part of any submission to the FDA.
  • Inform the teams that these changes are scheduled for Q1 2018 and ensure you have close ties with your Facebook rep to ensure you keep abreast of changes to the format and release date.


Next on the Facebook change dossier is ads being shown on pages even when they are “hidden.” This functionality is already released in Canada so we were able to look at the system running and give brands a preview of what will be hitting in Q1 2018.

Essentially, the new “Ads” button will show all active ads that are targeted to the viewer’s location. So, for right now we can’t use this feature to see US-targeted ads on Pages that are visible from Canada. For pharma brand marketers this feature won’t cause any real trouble because the buttoned-down nature of the industry means all active ads will be acceptable. One note for regulatory conversations is that Facebook is planning on showing historical ads in the future. Even for ads that are deleted the old versions may be still available, however like magazine ads this shouldn’t cause any real trouble because the brand is not in control of this functionality.

Here is an example of two health pages in Canada that have active ads running:

Ads list from two Canadian pages with active ads running


Changes are coming to Facebook that may spark some discussions between brand managers and regulatory but overall Facebook promotion should remain stable. These changes should be viewed as good for pharma marketers because anything that helps with trust on these social platforms will increase the value of legitimate ads while reducing the noise from “fake news.”

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Digital Communication Tools for a Researchers

Why the researchers should use Social Media? A presentation for a PhD Club in SDU Campus Kolding, Denmark
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5 Key Elements of Medical Website Marketing 

5 Key Elements of Medical Website Marketing  | Social Media and Healthcare |

As we progress farther into the digital age, having a strong online presence is becoming more important than ever. Strengthening your online presence is about more than just having a sleek design for your website; it also means delivering fresh, relevant content to your patients and driving more traffic to your site. When it comes to all the levels involved in medical website marketing, just getting started can seem like a daunting task.

That’s where we come in. At Crystal Clear Digital Marketing, it’s our mission to make sure your website reflects your goals and values as a medical practice while bringing in new patients along the way. When you choose us, you’re choosing experts in five essential areas of medical website marketing—social media, email, blogging, content and search engine optimization. Each of these areas plays a vital role in the digital marketing process.

Social Media

If you’re looking for a way to instantly boost your online presence, social media is one of the best ways to do it. With technology becoming an integral part of our lives, social media isn’t an extra component of digital marketing so much as it is a necessity.

Think of how much we use social media to communicate with others and learn what’s going on around us. Why wouldn’t the same hold true for digital marketing?

By incorporating social media into your medical website marketing strategy, you gain an extra edge over the competition. It lets you:

• Reach a larger, more diverse audience
• Build brand awareness and loyalty
• Engage with your patients on a more personal level

Social media is also one of the main components in the Social Patient Center (SPC), the central hub of your medical website marketing plan. Our state-of-the-art software automates a whopping 85 percent of your outgoing marketing—including social media posts. This gives you one less thing to worry about as your website flourishes.

There are four social media platforms we know as the Big Four:

• Facebook
• LinkedIn
• Twitter
• Pinterest

With Facebook, you can gain followers and draw attention to services you want to promote. Twitter is great for grabbing the attention of new site visitors with engaging photos and videos. LinkedIn is similar to Facebook, but simply having an account and keeping it updated boosts your online presence significantly.

It may seem strange at first that we utilize Pinterest, but this social media platform plays a surprisingly important role in driving traffic to your site. Simply put, people like images. Some people are more drawn to images than they are to lots of text. By combining the captivating pictures on Pinterest with the text-oriented Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, you can be sure you’re covering all your bases and reaching the largest audience possible.

Email Marketing

Email is another medical website marketing technique automated by the SPC. Email marketing is a fantastic way to reach out to potential patients and keep in touch with current patients.

Since the process is entirely automated with our software, you won’t have to worry about maintaining contact with your patients at all times. We’ll take care of the newsletters, follow-ups and initial contact so you don’t have to. All you’ll need to do is provide us with your patients’ email addresses, and we’ll handle the rest. With the SPC, you can easily choose which emails are sent to which people. Outreach emails, for example, can be sent to future patients, while follow-up emails can be segmented to be sent to existing patients. With this important feature, you can deliver customized content to the appropriate audience with minimal effort.

You can promote any number of things with email marketing. Special events, new products and services, and introductions to new members of staff are just a few examples of the different things you can highlight with the emails you send to your patients.

We also provide a monthly report that measures how successful your email campaigns have been. This report gives you valuable insight into how you can tailor the content of your emails to speak to your patients in the most effective way.

Relatable Content

When you start working with us, the first step is to design a beautiful website that reflects who you are as a practice. To make it really stand out, however, you’ll need customized, unique content that resonates with potential patients.

Content is the backbone of an engaging website that helps visitors get an idea of what kinds of services you have to offer. Many doctors and medical practices make the mistake of copying and pasting content that they’ve found online. While this may be a convenient way to explain your products and services, it won’t do much to catch your readers’ attention. If you don’t capture their attention with engaging content, it won’t be long before they go somewhere else.

This is why our team of professional writers will only create unique content that:

• Resonates with future patients
• Is customized to speak in your voice and convey your message
• Is engaging, entertaining and easy to read

Making sure all content is original not only adds more merit to your website, but it also helps ensure you rank well in search results. Search engines like Google see duplicated content as a red flag, which will make the page’s search ranking suffer.

We’ll also tailor every piece of content we create to have an appropriate word count and keyword density. This is an essential part of search engine optimization that helps search engines like Google determine how high your web pages rank. To do this, we’ll communicate with you regularly to get a thorough understanding of the types of services you want to promote.


An active blog is the secret weapon of a comprehensive medical website marketing plan. Many doctors and surgeons forego blog posts on their websites, but this is a mistake that could cost you quite a few new patients. Regularly posting blogs to your websites comes with a whole host of benefits, including:

• Adding More Content. Simply put, the more content your website has, the better it will rank in Google. This is especially true if that content is unique and original. Just as our content writers will develop customized content for your web pages, our professional team of bloggers will create blog posts that are specifically designed to highlight the services you offer. Part of this includes adding inbound links to the services you want to promote in every blog.
• Building a Long-Term Strategy. The SEO potential of a blog only gets stronger over time. Developing a consistent blog-posting routine will help keep your blog as a whole going strong. The longer you do this, the better your website will look to search engines. Our blog team will make sure your blogs are posted on a regular basis.
• Keeping Your Website Relevant. Building a long-term strategy for your blog comes with another advantage: it keeps your website relevant to search engines. When you regularly update your blog, you tell Google that you’re maintaining your website and adding valuable content that others will want to see. As a result, your site will rank better.

While you can always pay to have your page advertised on Google, organic results are some of your best friends when it comes to making your website more visible. Organic results are the ones you don’t pay for to put at the top of searches.

Blogging is one of the easiest and most effective ways to save money while driving more traffic to your site. With our team of professional writers and editors, you can be sure that every blog posted to your site will be optimized to make your online presence as strong as possible. Much like the written content on your featured pages, blogging goes hand in hand with a vital component of our medical website marketing strategy: search engine optimization.

Search Engine Optimization

Search engine optimization, or SEO, is the foundation of a visible, successful website. If you’re looking to improve your site’s ranking in search engine results, you’ll come across this term a lot. SEO is an absolutely essential part of the medical website marketing process. Without it, your pages won’t rank well in search engine results unless you pay for them.

Fortunately, our professional SEO team is equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary to make sure your web pages and blog posts rank well in Google and similar search engines. This way, you won’t have to spend extra money on advertisements to make your website more visible.

All of our content is geared towards SEO for your website. Our content, blogging and SEO teams work closely together to make sure every word we publish to your site contributes to an effective medical website marketing strategy. We’ll make sure that everything from keywords to the alt-text included in images contribute to an SEO strategy that makes your website shine.

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Can Social Media Change Health Behavior?

Presentation at 10th Anniversary Convention of the Ateneo School of Medicine & Public Health, 24 Nov 2017. Novotel Araneta.
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Pharma Companies Must Go Social to Reach Millennials 

Pharma Companies Must Go Social to Reach Millennials  | Social Media and Healthcare |

Millennials are a sought-after and media-savvy consumer audience. While this coveted crowd can be an integral part of many pharmaceutical company’s marketing strategies, reaching them means taking a page out of a new playbook.

The “Connected Generation”—also known as Millennials—acts differently than the generations before them. They are digital natives, defined by their desire for information, services, and goods on-demand. Rather than purchase cars, many use Uber or Lyft. Rather than stop by a store, many use Amazon Prime to have purchases delivered within a day. They also view communication in their own way. Rather than pick up the phone or send an email, this connected generation uses apps, chatbots, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp.

This behavior also extends to how Millennials take care of their health. They want to access healthcare and information about their health quickly and on demand. These digital natives are leading the way for wearables, Fitbit, Apple Watch, and more, to track, gather health information, and get real-time feedback on their fitness. While older generations see primary care physicians as their first line of defense against non-critical health concerns, Millennials see them as a last resort. As many as 34% prefer retail clinics and 24% prefer acute care clinics where they can quickly get in and out, according to HIT Consultant.

It’s not news that more than 75% of Americans use social media to research their symptoms. But, according to PwC Health Research Institute, 90% of people aged 18 to 24 trust medical information shared on their social feeds. Millennials, especially the youngest members of that group, view social media as a trusted place for medical information and a valuable way to get information about their health.

Pharmaceutical companies and healthcare marketers need to take into account that social media and messaging are the way to reach this highly sought audience instead of traditional channels like television or print.

Reaching Millennials Means Getting Social

Millennials are going online to manage their health. They are using chatbots and conversational platforms such as the Whisper messaging app to ask questions and post videos and images anonymously. The power of these channels is their ability to let people ask health-related questions that they may find embarrassing, such as ones about sexual health or substance abuse, any time of day.

This group is also using wearables and Internet of Things (IoT) devices, such as Google Home and Amazon Echo, for information related to their health. With a simple voice command, this generation is asking Alexa and “OK, Google” to explain everything from migraine symptoms to the location of the nearest urgent care center to the hours of their preferred pharmacy.

If pharma marketers are going to reach Millennials, it’s crucial to be in the channels and places where they spend time and money. Reaching the on-demand Millennials means being able to engage directly with a highly focused and distilled message, as opposed to the broadcast tactics that work for their parents.

Reach the connected generation through:

Online health communities: These social media groups let drug makers connect with their patients and consumers 1-on-1 so they can provide much-needed factual information and patient-centered care. These communities are excellent at helping brands generate goodwill. Here are a couple of examples of the goodwill at the online health community on Facebook, PsoriasisSpeaks:

Messaging apps: Messaging apps are a highly effective, affordable, and convenient way to offer relevant information and 1-to-1 conversations. They work especially well for highly targeted topics such as endometriosis that may be neglected by other healthcare forums. Messaging apps are a marketer’s dream, following consumers along their entire lifecycle from symptoms and diagnosis, to product discovery, to purchase. Pharma marketers should be using messaging apps and move away from collecting email addresses to fill up their CRM. This audience is moving away from email and the phone. Create strategies where you connect 1-on-1 through messaging with this digitally native audience.

Chatbots: Chatbots leverage each consumer’s conversation history, context, and sentiment to provide personalized and appropriate responses. Millennials are drawn to chatbots because they can anonymously find answers to sensitive health-related questions. Brands benefit from chatbots, too. Chatbots capture data points and metrics for future marketing improvements, and consumer trend analysis. Think about the data-driven insights that can then be used for further marketing improvements.

Millennials are twice as likely as other generations to act on health advice they find through the internet, including social media, according to Referral MD. That’s why it’s time for pharma marketers to include social, messaging, chatbots, or IoT devices in the mix. These channels can be used to reach this lucrative audience, who are more likely to spend their paycheck on their health. Start using healthcare chatbots and messaging apps now to reach Millennials.

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e-Patients and Healthcare Social Media (#hcsm)

A presentation at the South African Pharmaceutical Expo (#SAPHEX2017) at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg about the future of e-Patients and Healt…
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Social Mobile Gaming Boosts Rehabilitation for Physically Impaired Patients

Social Mobile Gaming Boosts Rehabilitation for Physically Impaired Patients | Social Media and Healthcare |

The researchers from Imperial have designed a video game called Balloon Buddies, which is a tool that enables those recovering from conditions such as a stroke to engage and play together with healthy volunteers such as therapists and family members as a form of rehabilitation. Balloon Buddies is designed to level the playing field by allowing healthy participants to support the less abled player. The researchers have shown that this type of collaboration makes it more rewarding for the less-abled partner, more challenging for the better partner, and overall more fun for both, as they have to continuously work together to score points.

The team have trialled Balloon Buddies by getting patients to play it on their own in single player mode and then partnered with healthy volunteers during dual player gameplay. They found that the performance of the patient was boosted when they played with a healthy volunteer, compared to if they were playing the game on their own. In addition, they found that the poorer a patient's single player performance was, the greater the improvement seen when they played with another during dual-player mode.

These findings published today in the Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation (JNER), suggest that by increasing engagement with healthy volunteers, compared to playing alone, patients may be more likely to increase the effort they put into training, which could ultimately lead to greater gains in physical performance.

While the pilot study was limited to 16 patients and 32 healthy participants playing in 16 pairs, the researchers believe this form of rehabilitation through gaming may be beneficial to patients recovering from other illnesses such as musculoskeletal injuries, arthritis, and cerebral palsy. The researchers are aiming to further develop the game alongside new multiplayer concepts and show that it can be used in different settings including patients training with their therapist or with other patients, in community centres or even remotely at home.

Dr Michael Mace, lead author from the Department of Bioengineering at Imperial College London, said: "Video games are a great way of providing repetitive exercise to help patients recover from debilitating illnesses. However, most games are designed for users to play on their own, which can actually discourage and isolate many patients. We developed the Balloon Buddy game to enable patients to train with their friends, family or caregivers in a collaborative and playful manner. The technology is still being developed, but we have shown that playing jointly with another individual may lead to increased engagement and better outcomes for patients."

Balloon Buddies uses animation, sounds, and vibration-feedback, similar to conventional video games. It requires users to balance a ball on a beam, which is lifted at each of its ends by balloons controlled by the players. The main aim of the game is for the players to vary the height of the beam so that the ball collides with moving targets in order to collect points. Players are also required to work together to keep the beam horizontal so that the ball doesn't roll off the platform. It is played with a wireless handgrip called GripAble, enabling people with arm weakness to control video games on any standard tablet device.

In the study, the researchers tested the game on 16 patients who had arm weakness following a stroke with a healthy volunteer over three months at Charing Cross Hospital, which is part of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, in 2016. Previously, the game was also tested on 16 healthy pairs with different baseline abilities.

The team will now carry out a larger study to examine whether the game leads to more efficient learning and to examine if patients are more motivated to train for longer periods. They will also explore social implications of interaction such as the effect of patients playing with a relative versus a stranger.

The Balloon Buddies game is an example of the work of the Imperial Academic Health Science Centre (AHSC). This is a partnership between Imperial College London and three NHS Trusts, which aims to improve patient outcomes by harnessing scientific discoveries and translating them as quickly as possible into new diagnostics, devices and therapies, in the NHS and beyond.

Michael Mace, Nawal Kinany, Paul Rinne, Anthony Rayner, Paul Bentley, Etienne Burdet.
Balancing the playing field: collaborative gaming for physical training.
Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation, 2017 14:116. doi: 10.1186/s12984-017-0319-x.

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