Social Media and Healthcare
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5 medical online marketing ideas to outpace the competition

5 medical online marketing ideas to outpace the competition | Social Media and Healthcare |

Online marketing might have a lower entry cost than traditional marketing, but because of this it’s also competitive. Facebook ad spending alone has increased 62 percent year-on-year as of 2018, according to Econsultancy.

With more people buying ads and investing in online marketing, you’ll need every edge you can get to outpace the competition. Here are five steps to help you gain the lead on your competitors and get the most out of your online medical marketing efforts.

1. Enhance your web presence

A strong web presence is key to any online medical marketing strategy. Make sure your web presence is up to par by claiming your practice listings on any local business and healthcare directories. If your site is already listed, audit them to ensure accuracy.

You also want to ensure you’re using high-quality photos on your listings. Provide an even better experience by offering one-click booking for appointments.

Check out: 3 most common online directory listing mistakes

2. Build an optimized website

It’s not enough that you have a website in today’s marketing climate. You need to have an optimized site. This means several things:

  • Your site needs to be mobile-first. Mobile users account for more than 48 percent of all online traffic, according to Statista. Mobile-first sites display properly on mobile devices, while older, unoptimized sites can display incorrectly. This can result in visitors missing important information or leaving your site entirely.
  • Your site must be optimized for search engines. A site that’s easy for users to navigate is important, but your site won’t be discovered if it isn’t optimized for search engines. Make sure your website is up to date and follows current search engine optimization (SEO) best practices. Otherwise, it can lose out to better optimized competing pages.
  • An optimized site should convert visitors into patients. When filling out your pages and designing your site, think about whether it will lead visitors through the marketing funnel and turn them into patients. A site that doesn’t convert prospects isn’t worth the investment and upkeep. Be sure to feature patient testimonials and important information about your services and credentials so visitors can book appointments with confidence.

Related: 5 pages your medical website needs

3. Offer online appointment scheduling

Plain and simple, you should be offering online appointment scheduling. It’s convenient for patients, and it can act as a selling point for those torn between two practices. If that’s not enough, nearly half of the people we surveyed in 2016 said they want online appointment scheduling to be offered by the practice they choose.

4. Drive online patient reviews

Online reviews and testimonials can do wonders for your practice. According to BrightLocal, 91 percent of 18 to 34-year-olds trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.

To help build your online reputation, ask your patients to review your practice, and share their experiences online. Automating feedback collection will take the burden off your staff, and allow you to quickly review feedback.

Search engines also use reviews to determine rankings, so having a strong online reputation is paramount to success.

5. Publish great content

Writing quality content and sharing it on your site and social media sites can help your practice in many ways.

  • According to Google, 75 percent of people who find useful information in a search are more likely to visit the physical location of the company afterward. Great content on your site can translate into more patients coming to your practice.
  • Regularly publishing high-quality content can establish you as a thought leader. This can lead to guest posting opportunities, speaking engagements, and, in general, position your practice as a place is prestige.
  • Sharing content on social media gives you the opportunity to engage with current and future patients. This can help with retention, boost the possibility of word of mouth, and put your practice in the minds of future patients.
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. 

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Social Media Pros and Cons

Social Media Pros and Cons | Social Media and Healthcare |

Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms allow people with cancer to connect with one another immediately. That has both pros and cons, according to a recent article in the Journal of Oncology Practice.


Pros: Social media provides psychological and social support, facilitating conversations about the emotional, spiritual and physical challenges of living with cancer and empowering patients to “mentally process their cancer experience,” the authors write. It can also provide useful information. Searching your specific diag­nosis via a Twitter hashtag can connect you to online communities of people with the same type of cancer and help you find clinical trials.


Cons: Social media can be both factually unreliable and unsupportive, so it shouldn’t become a substitute for in-person support or expert advice. It can even lead to financial exploitation—beware of unproven cure claims! Privacy is also at risk: Social media sites are public, so be careful about posting personal medical information.


Physicians can help by becoming familiar with social media, using it for education and outreach—and being a resource for their patients.


If you learn something that may affect your care, bring it to your doctor’s attention for an expert opinion.

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Five ways Social Media has revolutionized medical care

Five ways Social Media has revolutionized medical care | Social Media and Healthcare |

Medical care services prevalent today are not quite the same as previous eras would ever have encountered. Apart from improvements in clinical protocols and infrastructure available to healthcare providers today, one of the fundamental technologies that have emerged to assist modern healthcare services is social media.

Today hospitals and doctors are all on the social media bandwagon. The boost of online media as of late has given medical care service providers more adaptability than ever in making sense of strategies and to elongate their reach and to support the patients.

Medical care services, especially hospitals, are utilising online networking channels to build up a rapport, establish contact with their patients, answer inquiries regarding practices, perform community outreach, and launching public awareness campaigns.
Let’s discuss five innovative ways in which social media is revolutionising the healthcare industry.

Leverage Research

Majority of healthcare providers and doctors are utilising social media platforms to research on medical gadgets, biotech information, and pharmaceutical data. They can browse social media pages of device manufacturers and pharmaceutical organisations for the same.

Physicians can even utilise online networking channels as an instrument to connect with other professionals within their fields. They can also track online journals of different specialties to get familiar with their practices. Due to the footprint of social networking being found in every domain, this enormous data can be utilised throughout the world for the good of humanity.

Accordingly, doctors, pharmaceutical organisations, emergency clinics are employing these platforms for the given reasons:-

1. For distributing the latest research
2. To post case data, pictures, and results (after permission)
3. To educate medical services consumers
4. Marketing of new medical devices
5. Give patients any updates that identify with the practice itself
6. Share patient testimonials and surveys

As progressively more individuals use social media for their medicinal purposes, online giants like Facebook, LinkedIn and others will indeed have plenty of data to utilise for scientific research.

Source of Medical Awareness
Further with such a massive amount of accessible data about different maladies and other general well-being problems, there is an excellent opportunity to utilise online networking platforms as a source of information as well.

For instance, in case that medical care service providers know about a looming epidemic, they can make provisions for precautionary measures and make practitioners available. They can furthermore suggest appropriate educational information to stall the effect of inaccurate information and guidance. Sharing news concerning health hazards or outbreaks is an efficient method for the healthcare organisation to utilise the data in a matter of minutes.

One such awareness program is the ice bucket challenge campaign for crowdfunding and spreading knowledge about the rare disease – Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). In the year 2014, the charity campaign went viral which even marked the participation of more than 17 million people comprising of well-known people from Bill Gates to George W. Bush.

Millions of individuals used the social media platform to posted video to accomplish the challenge and give a donation to the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Association. As per the ALS Association, the campaign gathered a huge amount of more than $115 million from which 67%, of the funds, were entitled to research and another 20%, were granted to patient and community services.

Medical care industry additionally acknowledges these platforms as tools to spread knowledge among via diverse methods like sharing a general message about flu shots and tips to avoid a cold.

Direct Online Meetings
Twitter has been held onto for online medical meetings. The meeting coordinators would create KOLs tweet and hashtags in which even patients are locked in. The rarer the ailment, the more the patient gets awareness through this medium.
Development in the space of KOL social networks is foreseen around healthcare meetings and staff-driven learning in general. Such systems will spread knowledge in their networks and examine symptoms that are at present discussed face to face but in a secure and docile way.

It is going to revolutionise the way KOL management and data presentations are produced and maintained.

Quicker Communication and Support
Everybody knows how critical regular checkups are for our wellbeing. However, people also neglect appointments.

However, by these social media platforms, medical care organisations would now be able to utilise these channels to send notifications and allow straightforward scheduling for people, along with delivering personalised reports catered to the requirements of the person.

With this data on the web, it decreases the number of calls that patients would make to the practitioner’s office, which in return assists them to commit more time towards the essential work of treatment. Online networking platforms are designed to grant patients the facility to obtain information real- time and interact with others.

Instant Patient Feedback
To accumulate feedback and improve quality, feedbacks on social media can offer physicians and medical care service providers prompt responses from patients to help comprehend common consequences of meds, and a general accord from patients on new procedures in this sector.

Utilising this real-time and swift feedback accessible via online portals enables healthcare service providers to study patient responses thoroughly and adapt and change. Besides, by using the reviews on these platforms, healthcare organisations have the chance to assess the likelihood of additional administrations in the industry.

Besides, by using the reviews on these platforms, healthcare organisations have the chance to assess the likelihood of additional administrations in the industry. One such model is – Artificial Intelligence helping physicians to triage patient care.

For instance, an AI-powered solution can facilitate operations at scale by allowing reading of radiology images from rural regions, wherein the images uploaded by the radiographer at the remote area.

Doctors who utilise AI to anticipate if a patient has a high close term risk for encountering any disease would then be able to organize resources and attention on the patient covering diagnosis and treatment plan. AI will eventually improve care as well as upgrade the patient-doctor relationships.

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4 Ways Your Dental Practice can Generate more Social Media Engagement

4 Ways Your Dental Practice can Generate more Social Media Engagement | Social Media and Healthcare |

Social media is a key area for your dental practice to earn more local patients, and spread your brand awareness. Here’s a few ideas that will help your dental practice earn more engagement with your audience.

Make Your Audience Laugh

Nearly 40% of Facebook users shared a funny post in the past 30 days. This large number of people sharing funny posts makes humor important when posting the perfect shareable content. So, aim for people’s funny bone, and watch your social media engagement soar.

Incentive Engagement


Approximately 36% of people engage with social media content because a brand promises a discount or reward for doing so. Your dental practice can take advantage of this by occasionally offering small rewards for people who share, like or engage with your post. Incentivize your audience with small, affordable rewards to boost your engagement, and spread your local brand awareness. Prizes like $25 gift cards, gas cards, movie tickets – are an easy way to drive more social media traffic and excitement.

Promote New Services and Promotions 

Did you know that 6 in 10 people follow brands online to learn about sales and to keep up with new product announcements? Your dental practice’s social media accounts can capture additional traffic by letting your patients and community about any new promotions or procedures that your practice offers. This isn’t to say that you should post a stream of all of your services in one day or a single post. Instead, take time to look at some of your popular services or procedures and select a few to share about over time. 

Be Consistent

Consistency is key for engaging your followers, and helps set their expectations about your social media content. Post at least once per week or even once per day. Try to post during optimal times to maximize the reach of your social posts. This tends to be in the early afternoon during the week, or around 8:00pm at night, but you’ll want to look at your own statistics to see what works best for you. Make sure to stick to a schedule, so that you can sustain your audience’s expectations, and cultivate more engagement. 

Let Smile Savvy Handle Your Social Media 

Social media is tantamount to obtaining larger, local brand visibility and obtaining new patients. Smile Savvy provides social media management that can help your dental practice cut through the noisy social space and reach more local patients.

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Google Ranking of Plastic Surgeons Values Social Media Presence Over Academic Pedigree and Experience.

Google Ranking of Plastic Surgeons Values Social Media Presence Over Academic Pedigree and Experience. | Social Media and Healthcare |


Patients increasingly rely on online resources to make healthcare decisions. Google dominates the search engine market; first-page results receive most of the web traffic and therefore serve as an important indicator of consumer reach.


Our objective was to analyze the respective importance of physician academic pedigree, experience, and social media presence on plastic surgeon Google first-page search result placement.


A search was conducted in the top 25 United States metropolitan areas to identify the top 20 websites of board-certified plastic surgeons. Social media presence was quantified by tracking the number of followers on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for every surgeon as well as medical school and year of graduation. The primary outcome was website ranking in the first page of Google search results. To identify the independent predictors of presence on the front page, we performed a multivariate logistic regression.


Total number of social medial followers was associated with Google front-page placement (P < 0.001), whereas medical school ranking and years in practice were not (P = 0.17 and 0.39, respectively). A total 19.6% of plastic surgeon practices in our study cohort still had no social media accounts whatsoever.


For the past few decades, plastic surgery practices relied on referrals, word of mouth, and the surgeon's reputation and academic pedigree to attract new patients. It is now clear that this practice-building model is being rapidly supplanted by a new paradigm based on social media presence to reach potential patients.

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What Type of Visual Content Attracts Patients?

What Type of Visual Content Attracts Patients? | Social Media and Healthcare |

Did you know, nearly 74 percent of marketers are creating and sharing visual content, and this figure is going to increase? The fact is, if you want to make a real impact with your practice’s content, you cannot just treat visual content as an afterthought. It is essential to give as much time and consideration to your visual content strategy as you would for your social media strategy.

If done well, visual content has the potential to not only attract traffic but also to improve your conversion rate. According to experts, visual content marketing strategy is three times more effective than search engine optimization or paid search in terms of lead generation and return on investment.

However, merely having a visual content marketing game plan may not be sufficient to give your team direction on what to create and where to share it. It is equally important to give every visual asset a purpose, which may help you develop a consistent and visual brand that your target audience will relate to.

Why Visual Content Matters

Some healthcare marketing experts are of the view that the popularity in visual content is just a temporary trend. However, studies are proving these doubters wrong. But don’t take our word for it; these statistics will highlight the importance of visual content:



  • Almost 65 percent of humans are visual learners.
  • The colors in visuals increase readers’ curiosity to read content by 80 percent.
  • Potential customers are 85 percent more likely to try a product or service after watching a video about it.
  • Social media posts with images have 180 percent more engagement.
  • Brands that create and share custom visual content have a seven times higher conversion rate.

There are many more studies by marketers and psychologists which prove that visual content matters.

Visual content is critical from the search engine optimization (SEO) perspective. However, not just any type of visuals will do. It is important to create high-quality visuals that are useful and informative to your target audience. According to Google:

“Creating compelling content will influence your website more than any other factors…”

Regardless of the type of visual content you decide to use, creating a high-quality piece must be your priority. If you are sharing engaging and relevant content with your target audience, search engines will take notice. A great piece of visual content not only attracts more eyes to your content, but it also skyrockets patient engagement.

How to Use Visuals During Patient Journey

Let us restrict our focus to three main areas: attracting potential patients, converting prospects into leads and converting leads into loyal patients.


Using visuals to attract potential patients

The best way to attract potential patients is by making it easier for them to find your practice, instead of your marketing team hunting them down. This might seem counterintuitive to some, but people are becoming immune to email outreach, so you just need to be available at the right time and in the right place whenever your target audience decides to look for you.

So, where do most potential customers usually look for services? Either on social networking sites, or search engines, or third-party review sites.

Lately, there has been a constant emphasis on visual content due to the changes occurring across almost every social networking site, such as Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter. According to a 2018 Social Media Marketing Industry Report, nearly 80 percent of marketers use visual content in their social media marketing. Video has already surpassed blogging in usage on social networking sites.


This is a significant statistic because just a couple of years ago, blogging was the holy grail of healthcare marketing. Now marketers are focusing less on developing loyal patients and more on leveraging these platforms to attract new eyes to their products and services. A significant percentage of marketers think their social media efforts generated considerable exposure for their brand and services.


Increasing traffic and attracting potential patients is becoming the key reason why medical practices rely on social networking sites. Consistently sharing appealing visuals on social media is one of the best ways to draw new eyes to your brand and to be there when your target audience is looking for healthcare services.

Potential patients also use search engines when trying to find answers to specific health challenges they are having – challenges that your practice could potentially help address. Improving your website’s search ranking will allow you to be found when a potential patient is looking for solutions to health problems. Visual content impacts all three SEO elements: time-on-page, visitor engagement and backlinks, which could help your website rank higher and cause more visitors to stay longer on your website.

Using visuals to convert visitors into leads

For most healthcare marketers, lead generation is the most important goal. Still, the majority of them ignore visual content when working on improving lead generation. As we all know, lead generation requires a strong lead magnet, which is an incentive that you offer to your target audience in exchange for their contact details. Your choice of visuals in your lead magnet campaign depends on your goal and target audience, but some types of visual content have the highest conversion rates. eBooks are at the top of this list. eBooks are a great way to present complex data in an easy-to-digest form. They are an amazing way to generate qualified leads as they offer specific product information that caters to your target audience. eBooks are usually gated by a lead-generation form, requiring visitors to submit their contact information before downloading or accessing the content.

We have already mentioned why ignoring video is a bad idea for your medical practice. However, videos could contribute significantly to an increase in lead generation. Adding videos to your landing page can increase your conversion rate by as much as 80 percent.

If you plan on using a blog or social media sites to generate leads, then using picture icons can be a powerful way to increase your lead-generation or conversion rates. These icons can draw the eye of your readers and guide them along the journey.


Using visuals to convert leads into loyal patients

Generating qualified leads is half the battle. Unfortunately, nothing you have done so far will be meaningful if you do not execute on the other half: converting leads into patients.

This part of the battle is called the lead nurturing phase. This stage refers to the process of developing relationships with qualified leads until they reach the end stage of the marketing funnel – which is to visit your practice.

In this stage, the key goal of a marketer is to educate the potential patient, gaining his or her trust by educating him or her on how your product or service could solve their health issues. However, this does not mean sending them one hundred emails or making a dozen calls until they either visit your practice or unsubscribe.

Instead, it is advised to keep adding value to qualified leads until they decide to open their wallets and visit your practice. So how can you use visuals to increase your conversion rates and win more patients?


According to experts, recipients are more likely to read your email if it includes an image or a video. As mentioned earlier, conversion rates for brands using visuals are seven times higher than those that do not. Additionally, another type of content that stands out at this stage is webinars. Webinars are a secret weapon when trying to educate your potential patients and show them the benefits of your offerings.

Adding a webinar in your lead-nurturing campaigns significantly increases your chances of converting leads into paying patients.
The right visuals could skyrocket your conversion rates, but the wrong one could contribute to a lost sale. The right visual content, targeting the right people at the right time, will set you apart from the oversupply of healthcare content available online.



Do not make the mistake of ignoring visual content in your overall healthcare marketing strategy. Potential patients have built resistance to the traditional marketing tricks used by healthcare marketers, and what worked in the past no longer improves ROI today.

Therefore, to set your brand apart, you need to learn from the mistakes of other healthcare marketers and adapt to emerging healthcare marketing trends.

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Here’s How Social Media is Playing a Key Role in Providing Health Care as Never Before

Here’s How Social Media is Playing a Key Role in Providing Health Care as Never Before | Social Media and Healthcare |

Medical care services prevalent today are not quite the same as previous eras would ever have encountered. Apart from improvements in clinical protocols and infrastructure available to healthcare providers today, one of the fundamental technologies that have emerged to assist modern healthcare services is social media.

Today hospitals and doctors are all on the social media bandwagon. The boost of online media as of late has given medical care service providers more adaptability than ever in making sense of strategies and to elongate their reach and to support the patients. Medical care services, especially hospitals, are utilising online networking channels to build up a rapport, establish contact with their patients, answer inquiries regarding practices, perform community outreach, and launching public awareness campaigns.

Let’s discuss five innovative ways in which social media is revolutionising the healthcare industry.

Leverage Research

Majority of healthcare providers and doctors are utilising social media platforms to research on medical gadgets, biotech information, and pharmaceutical data. They can browse social media pages of device manufacturers and pharmaceutical organisations for the same.

Physicians can even utilise online networking channels as an instrument to connect with other professionals within their fields. They can also track online journals of different specialities to get familiar with their practices. Due to the footprint of social networking being found in every domain, this enormous data can be utilised throughout the world for the good of humanity. Accordingly, doctors, pharmaceutical organisations, emergency clinics are employing these platforms for the given reasons:-

  1. For distributing the latest research.

  2. To post case data, pictures, and results (after permission).

  3. To educate medical services consumers.

  4. Marketing of new medical devices.

  5. Give patients any updates that identify with the practice itself.

  6. Share patient testimonials and surveys.

As progressively more individuals use social media for their medicinal purposes, online giants like Facebook, LinkedIn and others will indeed have plenty of data to utilise for scientific research.

Source of Medical Awareness

Further with such a massive amount of accessible data about different maladies and other general wellbeing problems, there is an excellent opportunity to utilise online networking platforms as a source of information as well.

For instance, in case that medical care service providers know about a looming epidemic, they can make provisions for precautionary measures and make practitioners available.

They can furthermore suggest appropriate educational information to stall the effect of inaccurate information and guidance. Sharing news concerning health hazards or outbreaks is an efficient method for the healthcare organisation to utilise the data in a matter of minutes.

One such awareness program is the ice bucket challenge campaign for crowdfunding and spreading knowledge about the rare disease – Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). In the year 2014, the charity campaign went viral which even marked the participation of more than 17 million people comprising of well-known people from Bill Gates to George W. Bush.

Millions of individuals used the social media platform to posted video to accomplish the challenge and give a donation to the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Association.

As per the ALS Association, the campaign gathered a huge amount of more than $115 million from which 67per cent, of the funds, were entitled to research and another 20per cent, were granted to patient and community services.

Medical care industry additionally acknowledges these platforms as tools to spread knowledge among via diverse methods like sharing a general message about flu shots and tips to avoid a cold.

Direct Online Meetings

Twitter has been held onto for online medical meetings. The meeting coordinators would create KOLs tweet and hashtags in which even patients are locked in. The rarer the ailment, the more the patient gets awareness through this medium.

Development in the space of KOL social networks is foreseen around healthcare meetings and staff-driven learning in general. Such systems will spread knowledge in their networks and examine symptoms that are at present discussed face to face but in a secure and docile way. It is going to revolutionise the way KOL management and data presentations are produced and maintained.

Quicker Communication and Support

Everybody knows how critical regular checkups are for our wellbeing. However, people also neglect appointments.

However, by these social media platforms, medical care organisations would now be able to utilise these channels to send notifications and allow straightforward scheduling for people, along with delivering personalised reports catered to the requirements of the person. With this data on the web, it decreases the number of calls that patients would make to the practitioner's office, which in return assists them to commit more time towards the essential work of treatment.

Online networking platforms are designed to grant patients the facility to obtain information real-time and interact with others.

Instant Patient Feedback

To accumulate feedback and improve quality, feedbacks on social media can offer physicians and medical care service providers prompt responses from patients to help comprehend common consequences of meds, and a general accord from patients on new procedures in this sector.


Utilising this real-time and swift feedback accessible via online portals enables healthcare service providers to study patient responses thoroughly and adapt and change. Besides, by using the reviews on these platforms, healthcare organisations have the chance to assess the likelihood of additional administrations in the industry.

Besides, by using the reviews on these platforms, healthcare organisations have the chance to assess the likelihood of additional administrations in the industry. One such model is - Artificial Intelligence helping physicians to triage patient care.

For instance, an AI-powered solution can facilitate operations at scale by allowing reading of radiology images from rural regions, wherein the images uploaded by the radiographer at the remote area.

Doctors who utilise AI to anticipate if a patient has a high close term risk for encountering any disease would then be able to organize resources and attention on the patient covering diagnosis and treatment plan. AI will eventually improve care as well as upgrade the patient-doctor relationships.

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Responding to online patient reviews: Legal and practical considerations for physicians

Responding to online patient reviews: Legal and practical considerations for physicians | Social Media and Healthcare |

In the age of immediate access to online platforms such as Google, Yelp and Healthgrades, patients are able to share physician reviews, many of which are positive but at times can be negative and potentially false. Negative reviews are damaging to a physician’s professional and personal reputation, but the way a physician responds may have a longer and far worse effect. Before a physician responds to a negative online review, he or she should consider the legal implications.

Physicians and other health care providers should know that online sites with patient reviews are immune from most litigation under Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act (the “Act”).1 The Act was passed by Congress in part to promote the continued development of the internet and encourage free market competition.2 The Act sets forth that “[n]o provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”3 In other words, in most instances, the Act holds online sites immune from liability for defamatory statements made by a third party.

Defending oneself has pitfalls

Physicians should also be cautious in responding to online patient reviews, to avoid an allegation of a privacy violation. Even if a patient has shared his or her own personal medical information online, physicians are still barred from disclosing patient information under HIPAA and state privacy laws. As a physician, it can be frustrating to receive a negative or false review. And yet, it is important not to defend treatment decisions online or even acknowledge that a person who shared a review was a patient. Rather than responding directly to patient reviews and becoming the target of a potential lawsuit, physicians may want to consider less-defensive strategies. Health care providers tempted to sue patients for defamation related to online reviews and postings should also be aware of Indiana’s so-called Anti-SLAPP Statute4, which provides for prompt dismissal of litigation aimed at squelching free speech in connection with a public issue and an award of attorney’s fees.

Some alternatives for physicians

One alternative is to contact the patient by phone, or offer to meet with them in person to discuss the situation and reach a mutual understanding. If the patient was upset about a treatment decision, it may be helpful to revisit the conversation and explain best practices or standards used by your practice, hospital or other medical setting. Physicians can also take the approach of encouraging patient reviews from all patients, as increased positive reviews may lessen the impact of a few negative reviews. Finally, physicians should utilize social media and other online platforms to their advantage by keeping online profiles updated.

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Study: U.S. doctors lag Asian counterparts in comfort with digital platforms 

Study: U.S. doctors lag Asian counterparts in comfort with digital platforms  | Social Media and Healthcare |

Doctors are steadily becoming more comfortable with digital channels, with more than eight in 10 preferring them for product information, according to a survey from Indegene. 

Although digital is rising in prominence overall, face-to-face tablet-based detailing is still the most preferred channel for product information for 73% of U.S. doctors. After that, U.S. doctors want to get their product information from journals (66%), direct mail (57%), websites (56%), and marketing emails (54%).

Over the past three years, doctors’ overall preference for digital has risen. In 2015, 72% of doctors globally preferred digital channels, and that number reached 82% last year. Digital has also overtaken doctors’ preference to work with medical representatives.

“This is the first time that the digital channel [score]  is going beyond the medical rep score,” said Gaurav Kapoor, cofounder and EVP of Indegene. “In the five years [we’ve done this survey], this is the first time the doctors in U.S. and globally are ready for an omnichannel world.”

Doctors in the U.S. and their counterparts in India and China have different preferences for obtaining product information and communicating with their patients, with doctors in India and China more likely to use emerging digital channels for both. Doctors in India and China mostly prefer face-to-face detailing for product information (69%), but they are also more comfortable using social and digital methods for this information. Nearly 60% use social apps for product information, compared to 34% of U.S. doctors, and half use text messaging, compared to 29% in the U.S.

More than half of Indian and Chinese doctors use text messaging to communicate with patients, 64% use social messaging, and 49% use health apps. Only about 30% of U.S. doctors prefer each of these channels.

Kapoor attributed this digital and social comfort to the popularity of WeChat in these regions, where the app is widely used by patients, doctors, and pharma companies. 

“Apps like WeChat are exploding, and I think that’s a huge influence on our report,” Kapoor said. “Every brand in pharma has a WeChat channel for every brand that connects patients and doctors, and it becomes a central point of communication. That kind of revolution has not happened in the U.S. yet.”

Real-world evidence began to play a bigger role in drug development and approval in 2016 due to the U.S. 21st Century Cures Act. Just a couple years later, it has become the sixth-most-sought-after data set by doctors.

Safety and efficacy information are the most-sought after data, but 72% of U.S. doctors are looking for real-world evidence, along with 80% of doctors in the rest of the world.

About 60% of U.S. doctors also consider real-world evidence when prescribing a drug, and price is also a large consideration, said 63% of U.S. doctors. Both real-world evidence and price are closing in on the top two considerations for prescribing, efficacy (76%) and safety information (67%).

The move to digital channels could mean changes in launch strategies in the coming years, Kapoor said, predicting that some pharma or biotech companies may experiment with digital-only product launches as the preference for digital continues to rise.

“We deal with some of the most intellectual minds, and they’re moving fast,” Kapoor said. “Today, doctors are expecting pharma to also move quickly. It’s so expensive to do a traditional launch, so these new generation, smaller oncology biotech companies may be encouraged to use digital channels for knowledge sharing.”

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10 Healthcare Marketing Myths - Don't Ruin Your Business!

10 Healthcare Marketing Myths - Don't Ruin Your Business! | Social Media and Healthcare |

Every day we hear lots of healthcare marketing myths being thrown around. Some of these myths can interfere with your marketing, while others make it hard to see any return on investment. In either case, holding onto these beliefs is sabotaging your business.

So, let’s get Myth-Busting:


1.  “I Have Enough Patients, I Don’t Need Marketing”

It’s great to hear you’re doing well at the moment! You’ve probably had a steady flow of patients for a while now — maybe several years or more. Surely that’ll just stay the same, right?

No-one will ever switch doctors, right …?

There are so many ways to lose patients — many of them out of your control. They might move out of town. They might change their insurance provider. The referring doctors you’ve relied on for so long might go out of business or will make new referral partnerships with another practice.

Doing well now doesn’t mean doing well tomorrow.  This is one of many big healthcare marketing myths.


2.  “Healthcare Marketing Isn’t Ethical”

There’s an ounce of truth to this — some medical marketing isn’t ethical. Examples are marketing companies that make promises they can’t  keep or they make ridiculous and baseless claims, etc.

These are unethical in any business. Healthcare marketing is designed to center around patients and letting them know you’re available, have the skills, tools and knowledge to treat them well when they fall ill. There’s nothing unethical in letting people know you are fully qualified and interested in providing them with healthcare when they need it.  Thus, this is easily addressed as one of the healthcare marketing myths.


3.  “We Get Enough Referrals, We Don’t Need Marketing”

Hospitals and practices routinely overestimate their influence in the community. You live and breathe your business, and deal with patients who are obviously aware of you — but do they truly represent the larger community?

Even if they do, awareness doesn’t always translate to interest. They might go to a hospital for an emergency, but who are they calling for an ambulance?  Do they know they can call a hospital directly for that?

Advertising is a must if you expect people to know about your services. After all, you want patients to choose your medical practice over another every time.  Be aware of the ongoing healthcare marketing myths.


4.  “It’s Too Expensive to Advertise”

Marketing, done properly, is supposed to make money, NOT lose money!  If your marketing is going nowhere, it’s time to reassess those marketing efforts, not eliminate them completely. The proper investment in your marketing strategies will return a very real and very large ROI.


5.  “I Wouldn’t Click on That Ad, So Don’t Use It”

While you obviously have input on your brand and advertising, keep in mind a very simple concept:

You are not your target audience!  This is yet another one of the bigger healthcare marketing myths.

That’s something every marketing professional has to keep in front of their mind. Base your decisions on REAL data metrics, and not on how you personally feel about it. When the demographic analytics suggest a certain marketing strategy, it’s always best to trust the data rather than assuming your personal feeling is most relevant.


6.  “Nobody Clicks on Paid Advertisements for Doctors”

Similar to the above; you might think nobody clicks on paid advertisement because you don’t.  But plenty of people do. We have the data to prove it and it’s the quickest way to get more patients.

Once again, the real data proves many times over that paid advertising WORKS!


7.  “My Website Should Be About Education”

Education is very important. Educating people with your site is the cornerstone of “Content Marketing” for SEO (search engine optimization) purposes.

Education should be reserved for a Blog on your site.   Keep educational pages accessible on “treatment pages” so as to not cause confusion of the essentials.  People want to know what services you offer, where you are, and how to get in touch with your practice.

All other considerations are secondary and all should work toward making things easy for everyone who visits your site.


8.  “I Have New Equipment I Have to Advertise”

Medical professionals love getting their hands on the latest technology — we all do really! But ask yourself if that technology is something that the patients will care about?  Patients want to know how you will help them.  Does your new equipment help them answer that question?

For example, a new X-Ray machine that processes images faster probably isn’t worth shouting about – but a new X-Ray machine that has higher resolution, with finer details to help diagnosis problems earlier? That, patients will care about.


9.  “We Already Market Online Using Social Media”

Great, you’re on social media! So many people miss this step. But digital advertising goes well beyond social media posts. You are not going to build a huge audience around your Facebook posts, especially with current algorithms favoring friends and family.  Even with a large audience, you’re not likely to obtain new patients, but rather just retain current clients (a valuable thing to do, but extremely limited.)

It’s highly recommended that you use paid Social Media Ads. They produce far better reach than your organic posts while you can get very specific with targeting efforts. Using paid Social Media Ads synergistically with your other digital marketing strategy will work wonders.  You will be surprised at how well this works! Thus debunking another of healthcare marketing myths.


10.  “Marketing Doesn’t Work – I’m Not Receiving Calls”

Like with the unethical advertising point, there’s certainly a kernel of truth here. Increased phone calls are an important metric to see how well your advertising efforts are going.

However, before jumping to conclusions, be sure to check the real, hard data. Are you actually not getting more phone calls, or are you simply not noticing them?  Are you tracking how people found you to call in the first place? “May I ask how you heard about us?” should always be a question you ask any new patient.

Also keep in mind long-term value marketing for your branding; not every single piece needs to bring a new person through the door. Keep a long term view during the process.

What is the single worst thing you can do?  Give up marketing because you don’t think it’s working.  You must assess the data and metrics, alter your direction when needed, but DO NOT eliminate your advertising budget!


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7 Digital Marketing Tactics For Healthcare Businesses 

7 Digital Marketing Tactics For Healthcare Businesses  | Social Media and Healthcare |

As part of the healthcare industry, your business is relentlessly looking for new and improved ways of providing the best care to your patients. So why do the majority self-diagnose using the internet?

According to a UK study by Statista41% of people said that they use the internet to self-diagnose medical issues every few months or so, another 13% said they self-diagnose every few weeks and collectively 13% said they self-diagnose between every day and every few days.

Moreover, common reasons for self-diagnosis instead of visiting the doctor are: being unable to get a doctor’s appointment and Google is a better option because their GP wasn’t available quickly enough.

With so many people turning to the internet to answer their medical questions, having a legitimate healthcare provider such as your business online will be beneficial to all involved to ensure there are fewer self-misdiagnoses and more real, valid doctor appointments.

That’s why we have stitched together 7 digital marketing tactics for healthcare businesses:

1. Have an easy to navigate website 

Your website is typically your patients’ first impression of your business, so making sure it performs well is crucial as this can be the deciding factor as to whether someone visits your practice or goes elsewhere.

If your website’s navigation is confusing or unclear, your website visitors may not be able to find everything available to them, ultimately making it more likely for them to look elsewhere for information.

With an easy to navigate website, the user experience will be painless, and visitors will be more inclined to visit your practice as well as use your website for future medical information from a positive experience.

(Related content: 5 Reasons To Invest In a New Website)

2. Have a mobile optimised website

Statistics from Statista show that the share of mobile traffic in 2018 was 52.2%, meaning that more than half of your visitors will be looking at your website on their mobile smartphones.

Making sure your website is mobile optimised for potential patients is vital now more than ever. Being mobile optimised can be very influential as to whether a visitor to your site stays there, looks at the content of your website and enquires with you, or alternatively goes elsewhere due to the poor user experience.

(Related content: Why Is It Important That Your Website Is Mobile-friendly?)

3. Be informative: run a blog with regular content

1% of all Google searches are symptom related, and although 1% may not sound like much, with a total of 3.5 billion Google searches per day, it’s a lot. This means there’s a good chance these searchers can find your healthcare business if you take advantage of this fact and produce quality content such as informative blog posts.

By now, we’ve established that people want information on medical issues before or instead of going to a doctor. They want, need and look for medical information that you have the ability to provide. By providing information in the form of blog posts, this can be your way of putting your foot through the door, and to persuade them that they do need to come to your business.

Including other patients’ in-depth medical experiences can be very influential as it can make the reader feel more connected because after all, people trust people.

4. Send a monthly eNewsletter

An email newsletter is still a fantastic tool, yet it is often overlooked and underestimated.

When users sign up to your newsletter, you already know that they are interested in receiving medical information, and now they only need to check their email inbox when they have any medical questions. To make your newsletter as engaging as possible, it should have a mixture of content including blog posts, images, and videos, with the best picks of your content for that month, personalised to the people in your database.

5. Create educational videos

The use of video in digital marketing strategies has proven to be successful for many industries, likewise for the healthcare industry. Video can be a great way to provide medical information in a more engaging and visual way.

68% of people would rather use a short video to learn about a product or service. A video is easy to digest, in fact videos are processed by the brain 60,000 times faster than text, which is why it’s a great tool to use for educational videos.

Another form of video content that still counts as educational and can be effective in your digital marketing efforts is video testimonials. It gives your healthcare business more credibility and the content is more personal so viewers will feel more connected.

6. Engage with your audience on social media

Being on social media platforms is essential for pretty much any business in any industry (if you want to grow, of course). For the healthcare industry, social media can help you connect and engage with your audience, and it can encourage your audience to engage with you.

People like to share their health issues with others, especially those who have chronic illnesses; 27% of patients comment or post status updates based on health-related experiences. Not only do they like to share their health issues with healthcare businesses, but they also like to connect with other people that have had the same or similar health issues.

By having social media accounts, it makes it easier for people with health issues to engage with your business and to connect with other people with similar health issues all in one place.

(Related content: Which Social Media Platforms Should Your Business Be Present on?)

Claire Murdoch@ClaireCNWL are a huge asset to people learning to live with mh problems and a tremendously positive challenge and support to colleagues as they strive to create therapeutic services!


"It was great being able to talk about my experience and how I put this to good use. I am living proof that this is not the end of things, but a start," says @CNWLNHS Mark Sanderson who spoke at the brilliant Hearing Voices conference in #MiltonKeynes. 

See Claire Murdoch's other Tweets


7. Use SEO correctly

Last but not least, you need to optimise the technical on-page SEO for each page of your website so that your content can become visible on search engines; but without knowing the best up-to-date SEO practices, you could end up with a website with quality content that brings little to no visitors.

SEO (search engine optimisation) is a set of practices used to ensure that your website appears in the search engine results for specific keywords and phrases relevant to your website, for the purpose of increasing the quantity and quality of your website’s traffic through organic search engine results.

Using SEO marketing correctly will make your healthcare business stand out from your competitors. Your website and its content will likely rank higher, meaning that people searching will come across your site and content more easily.

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6 health technology tools patients expect your practice to have

6 health technology tools patients expect your practice to have | Social Media and Healthcare |

If new health technology isn’t a focus at your practice, it’s time to readjust your priorities. Patient expectations have evolved, thanks in part to companies like Amazon that constantly debut new products and services to make their lives easier.

Not surprisingly, 59 percent of U.S. consumers want a digital healthcare experience similar to retail, according to research conducted by global technology company NTT DATA Services. Here’s a look at a few innovative features on your patients’ wish list.

Patient experience technologies you need to have

1. Online patient scheduling

Making a doctor’s appointment shouldn’t be a hassle. Many people don’t have time to pick up the phone during business hours, and others simply prefer the convenience of online patient scheduling.

In fact, 81 percent of patients would rather schedule a healthcare appointment online, if they had the option, according to Intuit Health. Nearly half (40 percent) want this feature so badly, they would consider changing providers for it.

Listen: What patients want, online scheduling edition

2. Automated appointment confirmations and reminders

Your patients have busy lives. Even the most organized people can benefit from appointment reminders, because it can be hard to keep track of every commitment on their calendar.

2017 Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) survey of patients who missed at least one medical appointment in the past 12 months revealed a common reason for their absence. Most (52.4 percent) simply forgot to attend or cancel the appointment, highlighting the mutually beneficial need to send automated appointment reminders.

Related: 5 ideas to reduce no-shows at your healthcare practice

3. Patient satisfaction surveys

When choosing a healthcare provider, people have plenty of options. Consequently, they respect doctors who send post-visit patient satisfaction surveys, because it gives them a voice.

Do note, all patient assessments are not created equal, so take the time to do it right. You probably won’t get much response by manually sending lengthy surveys, so don’t waste your staff’s time.

Instead, maximize responses by investing in software that automatically sends strategically-timed, HIPAA-compliant surveys. This will help you address issues in a timely manner and encourage patients to share positive reviews of your practice.

One-third of practices fail at feedback: A patient review report

4. Access to an online patient portal

If your practice doesn’t offer a patient portal, you’re behind the curve. A 2018 MGMA survey revealed that 90 percent of healthcare practices provide this feature. The remaining 10 percent shared plans to implement one in the near future or already have the software as part of their EHR, but haven’t yet put it into effect.

Patient portals are valued because they provide unlimited access to personal health information. You decide what features to offer, but a few popular options include lab results, immunization records, and the ability to request prescription refills.

5. Online bill pay

Most industries allow customers to pay for just about anything online, but healthcare is the exception to the norm. Consequently, it’s no surprise that 65 percent of consumers would consider switching providers for a better payments experience, according to the Eighth Annual Trends in Healthcare Payments Report, published by healthcare payments platform InstaMed.

The report revealed that 79 percent of consumers are still receiving paper medical bills, but only 21 percent actually want to pay their bills by check. Retain your patients by offering online bill pay, so they can quickly, easily, and securely pay for your services.

Check out: Practice growth software & other tech upgrades your practice needs

6. Virtual care

If you’re a traditionalist, it might be hard to jump on the telehealth bandwagon, but it’s the way of the future. A 2018 Deloitte survey revealed only 23 percent of consumers have participated in a video visit with their doctor, but 57 percent of those who hadn’t used this feature yet were willing to give it a try.

There’s many different ways to deliver virtual care — i.e., monitoring patients with wearable devices, email consultations, and virtual visits — so start small by offering one or two features. Expand your suite of virtual services as you become more comfortable with this innovative health technology.

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7 Simple Steps for Getting More Patients |

7 Simple Steps for Getting More Patients | | Social Media and Healthcare |

The key to patient acquisition is providing an outstanding customer experience. When your customers are happy, they will refer other people to your business. Having customers that trust you and are confident in your ability to provide excellent care are the first step to getting more patients.

We have compiled a guide of 7 simple steps to get more patients into your clinic.

Patients Needs and Expectations.

To begin, it is important to understand your patients’ expectations and how you measure up to that. Patient surveys are the best way to get this information. Learn about what your patients DON’T like about your performance and then work to correct it.

You can also engage with patients directly and ask questions about the care they received and what you can do to improve.

Sentiment Analysis

Empathy is important here. Use a survey powered by a sentiment analysis software to help you understand your patients’ emotions. Remember to include these questions in your survey.

  • Their likelihood of recommending you to their friends and family based on their experience. Use a scale of 1-5 (most common) or 0-10. 
  • An open-ended comment box where they can elaborate on their rating and share anything else about the visit.

The software can use the responses to these questions to understand how the patients truly feel about their visit. It can also show patterns and identify any problem areas.

Know Your Target Audience

Using demography like location, age, gender etc. can help you create and execute specific marketing campaigns. This can also help you optimize your online marketing activities.

Your Google Analytics account can show you demographic data for interested prospects as well as actual converts.

Internal Patient Referral

After you identify your target audience, focus on increasing patient referrals. Engage with your current patients, empathize with their concerns and create an effective referral program.

  • Ask your patients for reviews. This improves your online reputation and increases the chances of acquiring new patients from the internet route.
  • Offer a bonus for referrals. You can incentivize your patients by giving them a discount for referring new patients to your practice.
  • Show commercials in the waiting area. A short commercial informing people how they can help others by sharing your practice with them can encourage patients to refer others.
  • Connect with your patients. Send them birthday cards, call them to ask if they are pleased with their care, engage with them and show them that you care about their experience and appreciate their business.

Referring Practices

Having good, strong relationship with referring practices is a great way to get more patients. It does take time to build these relationships, but it is well worth it.

One thing to remember is that this requires communication between the practices, especially when it comes to the transfer of relevant medical information. In a study, 63% of referring physicians complained about the current referral system. Patients do not like having to repeat their medical history when they are referred to a new practice.

Key tips to ensure that you provide fast and effective care to referral patients

  • Instruct over-the-counter staff to attend to the referred patients promptly
  • Provide a speedy appointment to them
  • Send over the treatment plan and other medical notes to the referring practice promptly after the patient has received treatment
  • Establish a direct line of contact in your office and the office of the referring practice for timely information sharing, and to alleviate the frustration of a lengthy phone tree system.

This will ensure that they become loyal patients.

Remember, providing privileged care to referral patients does NOT mean that you are neglecting the regular patients! However, going the extra mile to make the new patients feel special will aid you in retaining them.

Online Presence

If you have bad online reviews, referred patients are likely to avoid your practice. Your online reputation needs to be strong. When a patient searches for you online they should:

  • Reach you easily. Having a prominent SEO strategy will ensure that you have a strong online presence.
  • See a positive reputation and good reviews. Online reputation management is crucial here.
  • Easily schedule an appointment. Have a call-to-action dedicated to this.
  • Easily and quickly navigate your site. Ensure that you have a good website design with a clear UX interface.

It is also important to implement influencer marketing. You can get valuable links from reputable persons and companies from your industry. These “mentions” will give you higher rankings and a more commanding social media presence.

Patient Community

Forming a bond with your local community is highly rewarding. This strong community of patients will increase your reach. There are various ways to create this relationship. For instance:

  • Community events. Participating in community events, such as volunteer activities, neighborhood celebrations and educational events can drastically improve local networking and establish you in the community. Be visible, supportive, friendly, and involved with your patient community.
  • Social Media. Create an online community of your patients. Set up a Facebook/Instagram account for your practice. This is a great way to showing off your practice, advertise patient testimonials, and reach new patients. Social media is the perfect way to promote engagement by starting conversations on relevant topics, conducting quizzes, and spreading awareness about your activities and events as a healthcare provider.
  • Newsletters. Patients like to receive newsletters that relate to their health concerns. Send out neighborhood newsletters that offer tips and information for health improvement. Actively engage with your patients by providing discussion material.
  • Sponsor events and leagues. Sponsoring sports events and little leagues is a great way to build community relationships. A sports team with your practice’s name will vastly improve your brand authority in the local community.


Getting more patients may seem like a lot of hard work, but with help from Capital Practice Consulting it will be a walk in the park. If you are ready to get started, contact ustoday!

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Woman sues medical group after her medical information was posted on Twitter

Woman sues medical group after her medical information was posted on Twitter | Social Media and Healthcare |

A woman at the center of a lawsuit said Northwestern Medicine Regional Medical Group did not inform her of a privacy breach of her medical records until she called after seeing the records posted on social media.

Gina Graziano called it a breach of trust, and said Northwestern should have better policies in place.

“I was humiliated,” she said. “Embarrassed.”

Graziano filed a lawsuit against Northwestern Medicine Regional Medical Group, her ex-boyfriend David Wirth and his girlfriend, Jessica Wagner.

“I did not know her,” Graziano said of Wagner. She said she also did not know Wirth and Wagner were dating.

The suit alleges Wagner, a hospital employee, used her credentials to log in and access Graziano’s medical records, charts and files. Then, Wirth posted about procedures and treatments Graziano received at Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee Hospital on social media.

“That point I know, that curiosity intrigued them enough to know more about me, and my name was searched in a database on two separate dates — March 5 and March 6,” Graziano said.

In a letter from Northwestern Medicine to Graziano, the hospital acknowledges after “a thorough investigation” there was “inappropriate access” to her medical record by an employee on March 5 and 6 of last year. The lawsuit said Wagner looked at the records for about 37 minutes and provided them to Wirth.

On March 5 the lawsuit says Wirth put Graziano’s private information on Twitter. A police report said Wagner was fired from Northwestern Medicine because of the incident.

In a video of Wagner being questioned by Bloomingdale Police, she told the officer someone must have used her computer to access the records after she logged in.

“Can you think of any scenario under which somebody else would search for your boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend’s medical history on your computer?” the officer can be heard asking.

“No, and that’s where I am coming to the point that I search a thousand charts a day,” Wagner said in the video.

“It’s a complete invasion of my client’s privacy,” said attorney Ted Diamantopoulos. “When a patient goes to a hospital, they expect to have their medical records private.”

“They were treating me for something I didn’t want anybody to know about,” Graziano said. “Northwestern needs better policies in place for their staff to understand what HIPAA really means.”

A lawyer for Wagner and Wirth did not respond to requests comment.

Neither has been charged with any crime in this case.

Wirth did receive six months’ probation and paid a fine for harassing Graziano in a separate case.

Northwestern issued the the following statement regarding the lawsuit:

“Protecting the confidentiality of patient information is essential to our mission. Employees are trained to comply with privacy laws and face disciplinary action in accordance with our privacy policy for any violation. Regarding this specific incident, we do not comment on pending litigation.”

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Is pharma missing its social media moment?

Is pharma missing its social media moment? | Social Media and Healthcare |

Here’s a snippet of a conversation I had about seven years ago with a particularly nervous promotional review team that was considering the value of developing a presence on Twitter: “If we create a profile and all these people follow us, and all these people post adverse events, how will we ever keep up?”

“Oh, please, who do you think you are?” I replied, “Ashton Kutcher? Trust me, you are not that popular. You are a pharma company, albeit one under intense scrutiny, but don’t you have a pharmacovigilance group? Is it not its job to process AEs? We’ll just gather whatever information we can or triage them to your 1-800 number, just as we do with every other AE.”

I thought that rational perspective would ease the group’s worries and encourage it to become active in the social space. Well, it didn’t.

Adverse event reporting has always been the red herring of social media, in that it provides an easy excuse to say “we can’t do social media because we can’t manage the amount of commentary that needs to be managed.” But let’s be honest, how many AEs are really posted on social media?

I was having this very discussion recently with my friend Mary Ann Belliveau, Twitter’s national director, health and wellness. She recognizes that pharma is particularly nervous about assuming a formidable role on this powerful media platform.

Even though the widely held belief is that around 10% of AEs are reported across all media, Visible Technologies conducted a study that suggested otherwise. In a study of almost 150,000 posts around prescription statins and antihypertensives, it found only 3.27% discussed AEs. More recently, several Hale Advisors clients have shown me their own statistics, which are more in the 3% to 5% range.

Belliveau noted pharma marketers are currently able to advertise on Twitter without the use of a managed “handle” (@company). However, due to its current focus on transparency, Twitter will be transitioning all pharma advertisers to branded or corporate handles as of April 1. It’s a move Twitter believes will help patients, caregivers, and physicians better understand who is advertising to them.

We all know most brands — and promotional review teams — are uncomfortable managing online interactions, but Belliveau pointed to advertisers that use full-fledged branded profiles quite successfully. These brands are able to provide “social care,” which is helping them not only with adherence, but also with issues such as co-pay and availability of medicine.

For pharma companies that haven’t set up the infrastructure to respond to tweets, Twitter is recommending what it calls “blank profiles.” An example is @Apple. Because @Apple never organically tweets, its profile is empty except for responses to Twitter outreach.

Zoe Dunn, Hale Advisors

Brands such as Novartis’ @CosentyxUSOnly and @GilenyaGoUSOnly have had success with branded handles. They triage engagement by steering patients toward their 1-800 numbers. Alternately, some are activating online properties by driving patients to their websites to find specific answers to questions about reimbursement or co-pay assistance. Eli Lilly’s @Taltz and @Verzenio handles use best practices such as “rules of the road,” through which they share information about response times, hours of operation, and other information that helps manage patient expectations.

“The move into social care has been incredible for pharma,” Belliveau said. “It’s ironic that what pharma has been most afraid of — people talking to them — is actually an incredible strength when it comes to customer service and adherence. We’re even starting to see three-way dialogues between pharma companies, patients, and physicians, like at Abbott’s @FreeStyleDiabet. The reality is that people don’t care if you’re Delta Air Lines, Spotify, or Novartis. If they tweet at you, they expect a response. Not responding is akin to having an empty call center.”

For pharma companies that haven’t set up the infrastructure to respond to tweets, Twitter is recommending what it calls “blank profiles.” An example is @Apple. Because @Apple never organically tweets, its profile is empty except for responses to Twitter outreach.

Social media offers a significant opportunity to connect with the people who prescribe and use your products every day. We can use these platforms to share research, mine for insights, and even solve problems (by driving users to other customer-service channels) or spur better outcomes (by providing tips around treatment plans). Let’s not let the fear of AEs stop us when a solid response plan and triage to internal resources can make all the difference.

This may not be the best strategy for all brands, but most could benefit from getting closer to their customers. May you all one day be as popular as Ashton Kutcher is — or was in 2003, anyway.

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How to Engage Millennials on Social Media

How to Engage Millennials on Social Media | Social Media and Healthcare |

Social media can be a bit tough to navigate. And specifically, connecting with millennials can be quite intimidating. Millennials have grown up as digital natives, and instead of seeing social media as a gathering of information, as someone slightly older might, they view social media as an opportunity to experience what other users have to offer and to create experiences themselves. The community is very important to them.

Millennials play a huge role in social media marketing in healthcare – they’re the generation that is tech-savvy, ‘in-touch’ and have grown up in a social media world. Therefore, they are a key target audience for digital marketing campaigns of medical practices. That is the reason why engaging with millennials is super important for brand awareness, patient acquisition, and patient retention.

Play Up The Visuals

Visuals do better on social media than content without visuals. And this is definitely true with the Millennial audience – videos, photos, gifs, and infographics constantly flood their social streams.

Therefore, you should create short videos on platforms like Instagram or Twitter to pique their interest. And produce longer videos for platforms like YouTube to explain something like pre or post-procedural preparations and share information through storytelling. Also, make sure your posts on Facebook and your tweets on Twitter include visuals whenever possible.

Given the benefits of social media in healthcare, you should be posting plenty of visual content anyway. People retain information better when visual content is present and engagement also goes up. So, get creative and try to pair as much content as you can with eye-catching visual content!

Encourage User-Generated Content

Millennials, for the most part, love user-generated content, and it can have a tremendous impact on your social media pages. Not only does it encourage active participation from your patients and followers, but it gives you content to share, thus lessening the burden for content creation on your part. And user-generated content tends to promote engagement, not only from millennials but from your entire follower base.


But what exactly is User-Generated Content?

User-Generated Content is defined as any type of content that has been created and put out there by unpaid contributors or, using a better term, patients. It can refer to pictures, videos, testimonials, tweets, blog posts, and everything in between. And it is the act of users promoting a brand/service.

User-generated content can have a significant impact on choosing a medical provider, given the tendency that people trust what other people have to say versus what the provider has to say.

But, how exactly do you encourage it?

You can have a testimonial section on your website and your social media pages. Be sure to share the positive reviews, as this also helps build loyalty. Or, you could run a contest, such as submitting a photo or sharing your content, along with the supplied hashtag for a chance to win an item, free consultation or visit discount.

Using Ephemeral Content

Ephemeral content is rich media, primarily images and videos, that are only accessible for a brief period. These types of disappearing stories have become an incredibly popular social media phenomenon. And considering that the best practices for social media in healthcare are to “be where your potential patient is”, it’s no surprise that the stories feature has become an essential social media strategy in the healthcare world.

Having a limited lifespan, temporary content creates a sense of urgency. Usually, there’s a 24-hour window to not only view the content, but to also react and share it with others. Therefore, you better act while there’s time. Essentially, temporary content will help raise your voice above permanent posts, grab your patient’s attention, and elicit a quick response.

In addition, your disappearing content needs to fit your overall practice image and be fresh, snappy, funny, and shareable. For example, try posting a sneak peek of the latest activities at your facility or a behind the scenes look at your facility.

Leverage Ambassadors and Influencers

Influencer marketing is one of the best ways to quickly build your brand online. This allows your practice to connect with your existing and potential patients in a more organic way than compared to traditional forms of digital advertising.

The beauty about influencer marketing is that the audience is already there, all you need to do is establish a win-win partnership where both parties are offering amazing value.

Here are four big benefits of using influencer marketing to bolster your social media strategy.

  • Quickly builds trust. Influencers have built relationships, trust, and credibility with their fans. People respect their content and recommendations.
  • It improves brand awareness. As noted, influencer marketing can greatly expand your reach and positioning online. Social users will begin to learn more about your brand, your story, who you are, and the services you offer.
  • Enriches your content strategy. Sharing influencer content can help fill in the gaps in your own content schedule.
  • Effectively reaches your target audience. Through relevant influencers, your content is placed in front of social users who are already interested in your niche. You don’t have to spend additional funds on testing and finding your potential patients.

To Sum Up

Marketing to the millennial generation requires a new and more strategic approach to audience attraction and engagement. You need to keep in mind what the world is like for this generational group and respond to the way that they like to interact with the world. Meet them where they are at, on platforms that they care about, and deliver the right message to the group. Make it as personal as possible and show off your values.

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Special Report: Online activists are silencing us, scientists say 

Special Report: Online activists are silencing us, scientists say  | Social Media and Healthcare |

The emails, tweets and blog posts in the “abuse” folder that Michael Sharpe keeps on his computer continue to pile up. Eight years after he published results of a clinical trial that found some patients with chronic fatigue syndrome can get a little better with the right talking and exercise therapies, the Oxford University professor is subjected to almost daily, often anonymous, intimidation.

A Twitter user who identifies himself as a patient called Paul Watton (@thegodofpleasur) wrote: “I really am looking forward to his professional demise and his much-deserved public humiliation.” Another, Anton Mayer (@MECFSNews), likened Sharpe’s behavior to “that of an abuser.”

Watton and Mayer have never been treated by Sharpe for their chronic fatigue syndrome, a little-understood condition that can bring crushing tiredness and pain. Nor have they met him, they told Reuters. They object to his work, they said, because they think it suggests their illness is psychological. Sharpe, a professor of psychological medicine, says that isn’t the case. He believes that chronic fatigue syndrome is a biological condition that can be perpetuated by social and psychological factors.

Sharpe is one of around a dozen researchers in this field worldwide who are on the receiving end of a campaign to discredit their work. For many scientists, it’s a new normal: From climate change to vaccines, activism and science are fighting it out online. Social media platforms are supercharging the battle.

Reuters contacted a dozen professors, doctors and researchers with experience of analyzing or testing potential treatments for chronic fatigue syndrome. All said they had been the target of online harassment because activists objected to their findings. Only two had definite plans to continue researching treatments. With as many as 17 million people worldwide suffering this disabling illness, scientific research into possible therapies should be growing, these experts said, not dwindling. What concerns them most, they said, is that patients could lose out if treatment research stalls.

A spokesperson for Twitter said the platform “exists to serve the public conversation. Its strength lies in providing people with a diversity of perspectives into critical issues – all in real-time.” Where someone used anonymity for bad purposes, Twitter would take immediate action, the spokesperson added.

Chronic fatigue syndrome, also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis, or CFS/ME, is described by specialists as a “complex, multisystem, and often devastating disorder.” Symptoms include overwhelming fatigue, joint pain, headaches, sleep problems and isolation. It can render patients bed- or house-bound for years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, estimates the illness costs the U.S. economy $17 billion to $24 billion annually in medical bills and lost incomes. It is thought to affect as many as 2.5 million people in the United States.

No cause has been identified, no formal diagnosis established and no cure developed. Many researchers cite evidence that talking therapies and behavioral approaches can help in some cases. Yet some patients and their advocates say this amounts to a suggestion that the syndrome might be a mental illness or psychosomatic, a notion that enrages them. They would prefer that research efforts focus on identifying a biological cause or diagnosis.


One of those leading the campaign against research into psychological therapies for CFS/ME is David Tuller, a former journalist with a doctor of public health degree from University of California, Berkeley. Tuller, who describes himself as an investigator, not a campaigner, told Reuters he wants to help CFS/ME patients.

Crowdfunded by a global band of CFS/ME sufferers, their families and patient activists, Tuller has since October 2015 published more than 140 blog posts amounting to tens of thousands of words attacking studies of psychological treatments and conferences that have showcased them. He’s recently complained to the CDC, New York’s Columbia University and Netflix. In 2018, Netflix ran a docu-series about CFS/ME patients. It said it wanted to show the difficulties of patients “suffering from elusive and misunderstood illnesses.”

Tuller refers to researchers who explore and test treatments for CFS/ME that feature a psychological element as “insane” and a “cabal” suffering from “mass delusion.” They are bent on pursuing “bogus and really terrible research,” he told Reuters.

Sharpe no longer conducts research into CFS/ME treatments, focusing instead on helping severely ill cancer patients. “It’s just too toxic,” he explained. Of more than 20 leading research groups who were publishing treatment studies in high-quality journals 10 years ago, Sharpe said, only one or two continue to do so.

The world’s largest trials registry,, indicates that over the past decade there has been a decline in the number of new CFS/ME treatment trials being launched. From 2010 to 2014, 33 such trials started. From 2015 until the present, the figure dropped to around 20. This decline comes at a time when research into ways to help patients should be growing, not falling, because the condition is more widely recognized, scientists interviewed by Reuters said.

Reuters spoke to three specialists in CFS/ME in Britain, Denmark and the Netherlands who have reported receiving online abuse but continue to work in the field. The specialist in the Netherlands, a psychologist who works at a chronic fatigue treatment center, said that a few years ago, research teams there had five treatment studies looking at cognitive behavioral therapies for CFS/ME patients. Now, they have no treatment studies at all. Junior researchers are wary of entering the field because of the abuse they’ve seen others suffer, said the specialist in Britain, a doctor who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Per Fink, a professor at the Research Clinic for Functional Disorders at Denmark’s Aarhus University Hospital, said he kept going because he didn’t want to let down patients, some severely ill, who are “open to any treatment that may help them.”


The term myalgic encephalomyelitis was first used in 1956 to describe a condition associated with post-illness fatigue among patients at London’s Royal Free Hospital. Thirty years later, the name chronic fatigue syndrome was coined. Now, the combination term CFS/ME is used by most people – patients, doctors and researchers – and by the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

The trigger for the condition is not known, although it can follow a bout of severe illness or extreme physical endurance, or a viral infection such as glandular fever. There is no biomarker or blood test to establish diagnosis, and patients often face misunderstanding from family, friends and doctors. Patient advocates say the condition has a history of being dismissed as “yuppie flu” or plain indolence.

With no pharmacological or physiological treatments on the horizon, scientists and doctors explored psychiatry and psychology for ways to ease the symptoms. Some patients and campaigners say that diverted attention and funding away from scientific efforts to define what causes CFS/ME and how it can be properly diagnosed.

Simon Wessely, a professor of psychological medicine at King’s College London and former president of Britain’s Royal College of Psychiatrists, said he decided to stop conducting research into treatment approaches for CFS/ME several years ago because he felt the online abuse was detracting from his work with patients.

But he is still the subject of what he calls “relentless internet stalking.” Recent tweets directed at Wessely include one accusing him of playing “pathetic ego driven games” with the lives of people with CFS/ME, another saying “Wessely is a dangerous and evil individual” and another saying “We die, b/c of u.”

Wessely’s employers at King’s College London have taken advice on the potential risk and have instituted X-ray scans of his mail, he says. “Everything I say and do in public, and sometimes even in private, is pored over and scrutinized,” he said.

Wessely’s experiences are echoed by Aarhus University Hospital’s Per Fink, who runs a clinic that offers patients exercise and talking therapies.

Fink said he and the organizers of a conference he addressed at Columbia University in New York in October 2018 were hounded by complaints and protests from CFS/ME activists. A petition calling for Fink to be disinvited was signed by 10,000 people. Tuller – who in his blog wrote that the person who invited Per Fink to speak at the conference must be “uninformed or stupid or both” – called Fink a “scary guy” whose methods had “destroyed families.” Tuller urged readers of his blog to go to the Columbia conference and demonstrate.

Describing himself as a doctor and researcher “who just does my job in an attempt to help people,” Fink told Reuters his trip to New York was worse than anything he’s experienced before. “They are scaring people away,” he said. “Doctors don’t want to speak about it – they try to keep a low profile. And many researchers and clinicians say they won’t go into this area of therapy because it’s so difficult.”


The idea of critics or activists challenging researchers and seeking to hold science to account isn’t new. Most researchers say they are happy to engage in discussion. But with social media, email and internet now accessible from almost every home, mass communication gives online activists a voice with unprecedented power. In the field of CFS/ME research, it’s often personal. Those at the center of it say it’s gotten out of control.

“The toxicity of it permeates everything,” Sharpe told Reuters.

The campaign to have evidence-backed treatments discredited was “doing a terrible disservice to sufferers from this condition,” said Wessely. “Patients are the losers here.”


At the heart of the attacks on Sharpe, Wessely and other chronic fatigue treatment researchers is a study known as the PACE trial, which sought to evaluate the effectiveness of different types of therapy in CFS/ME patients.

Published in The Lancet medical journal in 2011, the results found that cognitive behavioral therapy – designed to help patients change their thinking and behavior – and graded exercise therapy – in which patients are encouraged to start from very low levels of daily activity and then incrementally raise them – are safe and moderately effective treatments for some people.

Richard Horton, the editor of The Lancet, said his journal had received emails and letters about PACE but has no plans to retract it. He said what is needed to allow for progress in any field of medical research is “an open and respectful approach by all parties to one another.”

In April last year, Tuller secured $87,500 in online crowdfunding to “debunk” the PACE trial findings. He refers to the study as “a piece of crap” and “garbage” and says he is determined to see it discredited. At speaking events filmed and shown on YouTube, he has ripped up copies of the study to show his feelings about it. Tuller has also posted a 15,000 word review of it.

Tuller cut his teeth as an AIDS activist in the 1980s. Now 62, he blogs, sends hundreds of letters and emails, and travels the world giving speeches and holding meetings as supporters send him donations and praise for his CFS/ME campaign. Tuller himself hasn’t conducted or published any peer-reviewed clinical trials on CFS/ME. He has co-authored a critique of PACE.

His argument is that the therapies evaluated in the PACE trial are based on a misguided hypothesis that CFS/ME patients suffer from “unhelpful” beliefs that they have a biological disease, and that their symptoms of fatigue are made worse by deconditioning due to inactivity. He also says he thinks the trial’s methodology was flawed. The scientists involved reject those arguments.

“My goal is to completely discredit the PACE trial,” Tuller told Reuters. “And if they have moved out of the research field, then that’s great,” he said of the CFS/ME researchers he’s targeting. “They shouldn’t be in the field. They shouldn’t be doing research at all.”

Tuller disputes that his campaigning amounts to harassment. In comments to Reuters in an interview and in emails, he said his criticisms are valid. And he added: “I refuse to act in the normal bounds of academia.” Asked about his motivation, he said he does not have the condition. He said he had a long-time friend who was diagnosed with CFS/ME in the early 1990s but has “no other personal stake.” He said his work is helping patients by “clearing out the bad science to make way for some good science,” such as research into the condition’s biological basis.

Another campaign, which goes by the acronym MAIMES, or Medical Abuse in ME Sufferers, operates from Britain. It has a standard letter for people to send to their local member of parliament demanding a public inquiry into the PACE trial. There’s also a Facebook page called “Abuse of ME Patients by Health Care Professionals” which has some 680 followers. The page runs stories from unnamed patients who accuse Sharpe and others of harming sufferers by calling them “lazy” and forcing them to exercise when they can’t.

The campaigner and doctor behind MAIMES, Sarah Myhill, has posted YouTube videos setting out her views: “I liken it to child abuse,” she says in one that has been viewed more than 8,000 times. “This amounts to a form of abuse, because these people” – CFS/ME patients – “do not have the energy to defend themselves.” Myhill has published several books advocating what she calls a “naturopath’s” approach to treating symptoms of CFS/ME – one using a tailored combination of nutrition, rest and medicines. She hasn’t published peer-reviewed research on the efficacy of her approach.

Myhill told Reuters that she had complained to the General Medical Council – the body that maintains the official register of medical practitioners in the UK – about Sharpe and other scientists involved in the PACE trial, but her complaint was rejected. Myhill showed Reuters the letter she received from the General Medical Council. It said it was “not able to identify any issues which would require us to open an investigation” into the researchers. Contacted by Reuters, the Council did not elaborate.

Slideshow (7 Images)

As well as dissuading researchers from working in the CFS/ME field, scientists fear that pressure from campaigners has also begun to show in the wording of guidance for patients and doctors from national health authorities. In the United States, the CDC has removed references to cognitive behavioral therapy and graded exercise therapy from its website.

The head of the CDC’s chronic viral diseases branch, Elizabeth Unger, told Reuters this was done to remove jargon and medical terms that are not widely understood by the public. “We received feedback that the terms were confusing and too frequently misinterpreted,” she said in an email response to questions.

Unger said the CDC’s advice stresses that each CFS/ME patient’s needs are different. “For some, carefully managing exercise and activities can be helpful,” she said. “Likewise, some patients may find that talking with a therapist helps them.”

In Britain, government guidelines on treating CFS/ME published by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), currently recommend cognitive behavioral therapy and graded exercise. But these too are under review, due to be revised and republished by 2020. A source close to NICE told Reuters the agency had been subjected to “a lot of lobbying” aimed at getting it to review the guidelines “and in particular to change recommendations around graded exercise therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy.” The source declined to go into detail about who was behind the lobbying.

Publishers, too, are feeling the heat. In a move described as “disproportionate and poorly justified” by the researchers involved, editors of the Cochrane Reviews science journals said in October that they would be temporarily withdrawing a review that analyzed evidence from eight studies on exercise therapy for CFS/ME patients.

Cochrane Reviews evaluate the best science on a given subject and are considered a gold standard in scientific literature. The review in question, led by a Norwegian research team and published by Cochrane in April 2017, had concluded there was moderate quality evidence to show that “exercise therapy had a positive effect on people’s daily physical functioning, sleep and self-ratings of overall health.”

Tuller told Reuters in emails in October that he considered the Cochrane Review to be “fraught with bias” and said its authors have bought into “delusions that these studies (the ones they reviewed) represent good science.” After hearing news of the review’s temporary withdrawal, Tuller said he’d had a “long meeting” with Cochrane editors in Britain last summer, and had “pressed them hard.” “So did others,” he said.

Cochrane’s editor in chief, David Tovey, confirmed that he had met with Tuller, but said the meeting had nothing to do with his decision to temporarily withdraw the review. He said complaints about the review from patients and campaigners had raised “important questions” about how the review was conducted and reported which he and his fellow editors felt needed to be addressed.

Lillebeth Larun, a scientist at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health who led the Cochrane Review, is one of several scientists who vociferously disagreed with Tovey’s decision to withdraw it. For her, the move is a sign that the activists who have plagued her for years have now got to her editors. In the decade or so that she’s been conducting research in this area, she told Reuters, she’s endured online attacks and abusive emails, and at various points had to take a break from working due to the pressure. Returning to a CFS/ME project would make her feel physically sick with anxiety.

“Attempts to limit, undermine or manipulate evidence based results, pressure or intimidate researchers into or away from any given conclusions, will ultimately have a negative effect,” she told Reuters. “It will only lead to those researchers choosing to work in other areas and reduce the resources dedicated to providing the help patients so desperately need.”

Some CFS/ME patients disagree. Reuters contacted the Twitter user who identifies himself as Paul Watton to ask him about his online attacks. Speaking by phone, Watton said he has been ill with CFS/ME and unable to work in his former job as a builder for 15 years, and feels let down by the medical establishment. Reuters was unable to independently verify his account.


“I agree entirely with what David Tuller says,” Watton told Reuters. “This is a chronic illness for which there is – currently – no curative treatment.”

In Britain there are at least 50 specialist chronic fatigue syndrome services that treat around 8,000 adults each year under government guidelines, offering behavioral and psychological therapies. Research published in July 2017 showed around a third of adults affected by the illness who attended these specialist clinics reported substantial improvement in their health. In the survey, more than 1,000 patients were asked about fatigue, physical function, general function, mood, pain and sleep problems before and after getting the services.

Colin Barton, chairman of the Sussex and Kent CFS/ME Society – a patient group in southern England – said talking therapies and graded exercise helped him recover to the point that he can lead an almost normal life. He told Reuters that in his experience, patients who talk about having been helped by psychological or graded exercise therapies come in for abuse just like the researchers. They face accusations that they were never ill in the first place; that their condition was misdiagnosed; and that their recovery is therefore fake, he said. As a result, he said, many recovering or recovered CFS/ME patients feel forced to withdraw from the debate.

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Stopping the scourge of social media misinformation on vaccines

Stopping the scourge of social media misinformation on vaccines | Social Media and Healthcare |

It is common that patient searches for information and products related to the word “vaccine” yield top results pointing to harmfully inaccurate information about immunization safety. This place of prominence given to medical disinformation is deeply troubling to America’s physicians, especially amid alarming new reports regarding measles, tetanus and other vaccine-preventable conditions.  

The AMA sent a letter to top executives at Amazon, Facebook, Google, Pinterest, Twitter and YouTube urging them to do even more to stem the “proliferation” of “health-related misinformation” that has helped vaccine-preventable diseases to reemerge. 

“We applaud companies that have already taken action but encourage you to continue evaluating the impact of these policies and take further steps to address the issue as needed,” AMA Executive Vice President and CEO James L. Madara, MD, wrote in the letter to the social media and digital technology executives. “The overwhelming scientific evidence shows that vaccines are among the most effective and safest interventions to both prevent individual illness and protect public health.” 

Dr. Madara noted that, when immunization rates are high, children who are too young to be vaccinated and others whose health conditions prevent them from being vaccinated, are protected from disease because exposure is so limited. These conditions include allergies to vaccine components, HIV infection and having a compromised immune system as a result of receiving chemotherapy cancer treatment. 

The impact of lower vaccination rates has been clear. The World Health Organization named vaccine hesitancy among the top 10 threats to global health in 2019. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that there have been at least 228 individual measles cases confirmed in 12 states between Jan. 1 and March 7, 2019, with 71 of those traced to Clark County in Washington. Four confirmed cases in Oregon were linked to the Clark County outbreak. 

In another report out of Oregon, the CDC told of an unvaccinated 6-year-old boy who contracted tetanus and required 57 days in the hospital and almost $1 million in care before being released. Upon release, his parents still declined giving him recommended vaccinations, according to the CDC. 

“The reductions we have seen in vaccination coverage threaten to erase many years of progress as nearly-eliminated and preventable diseases return, resulting in illness, disability and death,” Dr. Madara wrote. “In order to protect our communities’ health, it is important that people be aware not just that these diseases still exist and can still debilitate and kill, but that vaccines are a safe, proven way to protect against them.” 

Spreading vaccine safety message

To help spread this message and to counter misinformation campaigns, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine created a website displaying the overwhelming evidence that vaccines are safe. This message was repeated again in the Annals of Internal Medicine, which published a Danish study, “Measles, Mumps, Rubella Vaccination and Autism: A Nationwide Cohort Study,” that followed almost 660,000 children and found no connection between the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism. 

“The study strongly supports that MMR vaccination does not increase the risk for autism, does not trigger autism in susceptible children, and is not associated with clustering of autism cases after vaccination,” the researchers wrote. “It adds to previous studies through significant additional statistical power and by addressing hypotheses of susceptible subgroups and clustering of cases.” 

Ending nonmedical vaccine exemptions 

In addition to engaging digital and social media executives, the AMA has been active in state legislaturessupporting bills seeking to eliminate non-medical exemptions for required childhood vaccines in Maine, Oregon and Washington. The AMA is also opposing an Arizona bill that would discourage adherence to recommended vaccine schedules.

California, Mississippi and West Virginia are the only states that do not allow parents to opt out of vaccinating their children for personal, philosophical or religious reasons.

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Physicians and Social Media

Physicians and Social Media | Social Media and Healthcare |

How many likes does it take to get to the center of a self-esteem?” — Comedian Aparna Nancherla, Twitter, February 2, 2019

I was one of the first millennials to join Facebook, in the summer of 2004. At that time, the social network had just left the Harvard campus and had been released only to students in “elite” colleges. In the ensuing 15 years, I have been witness to the tremendous, unprecedented growth of social media nearly from its inception. Social media is like the mythical hydra; as you lose one “head” (e.g., Myspace), many others grow in its place (e.g., Instagram, Snapchat). Social media has completely upended how we lead our daily lives, at work, at home—even in love.

In my own profession of medicine, we are starting to recognize that the boundaries between physicians and patients can be blurred in this new world. Online professionalism is increasingly being taught in medical schools. This was a subject I myself was tasked to teach my peers, as I ran afoul of it as a medical intern when I posted something in frustration that could be construed as negative about my hospital, after the inevitable difficult week at work as a resident.


A physician’s career can be made, or broken, online, as was the case with Gary Tigges. Tigges, a Texas internal-medicine physician, wrote a brief, newspaper editorial declaring “female physicians do not work as hard.” In the world as it used to be, the piece would have been read by very few people; In the age of social media, though, this went viral and had serious effects on his career and reputation.

There have been numerous scientific studies in recent years on social media, and they have shown some surprising effects on the human brain. In one, the number of “friends” subjects had on Facebook significantly predicted gray matter volume in the left middle temporal gyrus, the right superior temporal sulcus (which is involved in speech and facial processing, and interestingly, the ability to attribute false beliefs to others), and the right entorhinal cortex (involved in memory formation). Unsurprisingly, photos and posts with many “likes” also activate the nucleus accumbens (NAcc), the reward center in the brain that is also activated by drugs and alcohol (confirming social media is truly an addiction).

The most dangerous aspect of social media is its “contagion effect.” This is when, like a deadly new influenza virus, someone who wants to spread false information, for example, takes advantage of peoples’ connections to propagate the lie. In a study on this contagion effect, individuals relied on the number of online “friends” or the photo of the perpetrator as a heuristic about that person’s trustworthiness.

This effect has been utilized to full effect by a new generation of con artists. William “Billy” McFarland, the mastermind behind the disastrous “Fyre Festival,” made one ingenious move that led him to successfully steal money from tens of thousands of millennials before he ended up in federal prison: he came up with the idea of Instagram “influencers” posting a simple orange square.

When you are rapidly scrolling through a feed filled with beautiful people, sumptuous cuisine and exotic travels, what could stop you dead in your tracks and make you pay attention? An orange square. Especially when that orange square is presented by an attractive Instagram celebrity with millions of followers. The contagion had taken hold.


The herd mentality is not limited to millennials who have grown up glued to our smartphones. Another young entrepreneur took advantage of this herd mentality at the highest levels of Silicon Valley. Elizabeth Holmes, now 35, leveraged her powerful personal connections to get funding from one of the biggest names in Silicon Valley, Tim Draper, the father of her neighbor and childhood friend (and a name my brother, whose career has been in the tech industry, instantly recognized).

Draper, at 60 years old, is not part of the social media generation. But he used his more old-fashioned social networks to bring in other titans of the industry (Don Lucas, Larry Ellison). Holmes then used her bubbly millennial charisma and her number of “friends” to promote trust, and released a dangerously flawed health care device before her fraud was discovered in late 2015.

Our society will never return to the way it was before the advent of social media. How do you protect yourself from its most virulent aspects? As a scientist, I’ve learned to question everything I see. Guarding yourself from the herd mentality by doing your own research and investigation is critical. Always find the source for the unbelievable headline you may read. If there is no source, eliminate that information from your consideration. It is also important to recognize that the social media profiles of most people are a façade.


Comparing yourself to someone else’s “photoshopped” life is terrible for your mental health. Recognize that your real friends who may not have thousands of “friends” and “likes” on social media (or, wisely, may not be on social media at all) are no less trustworthy. Go to the coffee shop around the corner and strike up a conversation. You may find someone interested in you: the real person, with all your real flaws, standing in front of them.

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The Cost of Free Social Media Marketing | Facebook Marketing

The Cost of Free Social Media Marketing | Facebook Marketing | Social Media and Healthcare |

Everyone likes FREE stuff, admit it, this includes you too. But did you know that FREE, can in many cases be extremely costly to your practice and potentially bankrupt you?

How can that be? How can FREE cost you your practice?

Here’s what we see happening to people who are extremely optimistic. They have a solid marketing plan, are regularly investing in their practice to attract new patients. And, yes their marketing costs money, $1,600-$2,600 or more per month to generate $60-100,000 a month in revenue.

Then… someone whispers the word FREE in their ear. A manufacturer or a buying group woos the practice with a FREE offer. They tell the practice they’ll give them a FREE website, or FREE Facebook advertising, or FREE social media marketing. And what do even some of the smartest medical practice owners do?

I mean, everybody likes FREE, so many people do the obvious thing. They cancel the marketing services they are paying for, the marketing that has been generating 20-40 new patient leads a month. After all, that way they can save thousands of dollars a month. Wouldn’t you want to do that, save thousands of dollars a month too?

So what could possibly be wrong with that? You be the judge.

Five months ago, Bob in Texas signed up with MedPB for Facebook Advertising and started getting 40 new patient leads a month. By the end of month two, he had 80 new patient leads and was very happy indeed. But then he quit the program!

One of the manufacturers he worked with offered to do his Facebook advertising for FREE! How could he turn that down?

Last week, we got a call from Bob, asking about our Facebook Advertising program again. Turns out in the last 3 months, his “FREE” Facebook Advertising generated a total of 2 new patient leads. Sure he’d saved roughly $3-4,000 dollars but he’d lost out on 118 new patient leads.

By signing up for FREE Facebook Advertising, Bob had lost 118 potential new patients to his competition and around $165,00 in one-time revenue and over $2,200,000 in lifetime revenue. Does that make sense, to save a few thousand dollars in marketing that’s working and lose over two million dollars in revenue?

Sue in Illinois, made the same mistake with her Google PPC, and it cost her her practice. She’d been struggling to get new patients in the door and to grow her practice, when she finally decided to spend some money on Google PPC, to see if it could get her phone ringing.

A few months later, the Google PPC campaign was working, generating 20 new patient leads a month. Which for her one-woman practice was keeping her busy in helping her make a profit each month. Then, given she had a steady stream of patients, she decided she could cancel her Google PPC ads and save some money. Or in other words, rely on FREE marketing and watch her bank account grow.

What happened when she pulled the plug on her Google Ad campaign? Her phone stopped ringing right away. In her case, almost all her new patients were coming from her Google Ads and when she turned them off, she stopped attracting new patients. Which meant that while she was saving some money, again a few thousand dollars, she’d lost her source of income. Her bank account went from growing to shrinking.

Two months later Sue called us to ask for help, but by now she was broke. She had no money for marketing and ended up declaring bankruptcy. Not a pretty tale.

Then there is the free website offer!

We hear about this one all the time, whether it’s an online marketing firm, a manufacturer or a buying group. They call the practice owner and offer them a brand new FREE website. It just sounds so tempting.

If you have a website that was built a few years back, looks a bit dated or just isn’t generating new patient leads, which would you rather do?

  1. Pay 2 to 6 thousand for a new website?
  2. Get one for FREE?

A FREE website sounds almost as good as being given a free car, right?

There is just one problem. Imagine you went into the car dealer, looking to spend $20-30,000 on a new car. Then the salesperson says, hey can I interest you in a free car? Is the auto dealer going to give you an actual working top-of-the-line free car? Or are they going to give you one that needs constant work so they can make money off repairs? Chances are the free car wouldn’t even come with an engine or tires.

The same is true with FREE websites. Every client we’ve seen opt for a free website has seen their online leads plummet, along with their revenue. Sure, the price was right, but the hidden cost is they aren’t designed to convert traffic into appointments. The result is potential patients go to your competitors and your FREE website costs a fortune in lost revenue.

The bottom line?

When you hear someone mention FREE, it’s should be a big red flag. It’s a way to distract you from the fact that what they’re selling lacks real value. Just ask yourself the question, “If I want top-of-the-line (marketing or whatever) is it realistic to think I can get if for free? Would I give away my medical services for free?”

The 2 Biggest Problems with FREE online marketing

  • HUGE drop in website traffic
  • New patient calls disappear

Realize that when you opt for free, you invest nothing and typically get less than nothing. Yes, it takes money to make money. Look for the marketing services that provide the greatest return on investment (ROI).

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#SocialMedia Tips for Physicians

#SocialMedia Tips for Physicians | Social Media and Healthcare |

Social media is a great medium today to boost one’s business, presence, and relevance. Knowing how to use it will certainly put you in the ranks of the most successful people in your field.

How can a physician use social media advantageously? Here, we will tackle tips that can help you in the online world. But first, let’s take a look at the most used social media platforms today.

Facebook – The granddaddy of social media platforms. Facebook was once known as a replacement for MySpace and Friendster. Now, Facebook serves as an all-in-one place to cater to your personal and professional needs. Facebook can help you sell goods via the marketplace, have groups, and even organize your meetings and events.

Twitter – Just a couple years ago, Twitter only had room for 140 characters per tweet. It has doubled but still encourages pithy commentary. Twitter’s popularity stems from the ability to easily scan through hundreds of users, reading their tweets rapidly. In today’s world, this is especially important since our attention span has depleted tremendously in the last decade.

Instagram – Instagram is widely known as a photo-sharing app. Today, creatives use it to showcase their work and act as a mini portfolio. It’s best known for its 9-12 square grid type format and stories, which share a similar function as that of Snapchat’s.

LinkedIn – This platform is geared toward professionals. It’s like Facebook but instead of meeting random people, you meet co-professionals and other physicians who are looking to further their career or network.

Now that we’ve gone over the different social media platforms, let’s look at some tips that will help you in social media as a doctor:

  • Use Facebook groups to announce news and other matters for convenience.
  • Set appointments using the event function in Facebook.
  • Tweet to disseminate information and utilize its thread function.
  • Create informative Instagram stories.
  • Make infographics for sharing.
  • Post relevant articles on LinkedIn.
  • Make your availability known.
  • Keep contact information up to date.
  • Give concise and relevant updates.
  • Be present consistently.
  • Be able to use images that are connected to your posts.
  • Post original fun content.
  • Respond to your audience in a timely manner.
  • Engage your audience and build relationships.
  • Know where your audience is hanging out online.
  • Follow other doctors on social media.
  • Be aware of trends and current events.
  • Include emojis and know when and how to use them.
  • Track and analyze your activity on social media platforms.



The key to being successful in social media is to know who your audience is and what niche you will be specializing in. It is also important to feed your audience quality content instead of drowning them in senseless posts. Branding yourself is also important as it will determine who you are in the online world. Also, remember that you do not need to please everyone since not everyone will be interested in your niche. Once you create a stable following, you only need to nurture and provide what your patients or audience need.

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Social Media Influencers May Sway Kids to Eat More Calories

Social Media Influencers May Sway Kids to Eat More Calories | Social Media and Healthcare |

Any child with a smartphone can access thousands of social media influencers who constantly post about what they do and products they like. It's a powerful form of communication and advertising in the digital age, and parents may have little idea what kind of impact it's having on their kids.
That's where Anna Coates comes in. She's a Ph.D. student at the University of Liverpool's Appetite and Obesity research group who decided to look at one aspect of the influencer effect: whether such messages sway children's food choices and how much they eat.
Coates and her team studied 176 children aged 9 to 11 who were randomly split into three groups and were shown artificially created (though realistic looking) Instagram profiles featuring two of the most popular YouTube video bloggers, or vloggers. One group of kids was shown a profile featuring the YouTube influencer with unhealthy snacks, another group was shown the influencer with healthy foods, and the final group was shown the influencer with no food products.
The kids were then offered an array of snacks to choose from — unhealthy snacks like candy as well as healthier choices like grapes and carrots. Children in the group that saw the influencer with unhealthy foods consumed 32 percent more calories from unhealthy snacks and 26 percent more total calories than kids in the group who viewed the vlogger with non-food products.
But when it came to marketing healthy foods, the influencer effect wasn't the same. Kids who viewed the influencer with healthy snacks ate no more carrots or grapes than those who saw non-food images. The study is published in the journal Pediatrics.
Debbie Petitpain, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, wasn't surprised by the results.
"This is the modern-day version of using popular cartoon characters to sell sugary breakfast cereals or juice boxes," she told CBS News. "Whether video bloggers are intentionally including unhealthy snacks in their video or not, children miss nothing and are easily influenced by what they see."
She recommends talking to children about what they are watching online and wrapping the diet and lifestyle choices they see into that conversation.
Parents should also lead by example. "The biggest influencer on your child's eating habits is you, especially when your kids are younger and more dependent on you to provide healthy meals and snacks," Petitpain said. "Role model good eating and positive talk about your food choices and tell your kids why you make them."
She also advises limiting your own cellphone use when spending time with your children and during meal times.
Nancy Z. Farrell, a registered dietitian nutritionist, notes that it's also important to talk to your kids about where information is coming from. "Many people claim to be nutritionists and have little to no credentials," she said. "Teach your kids how to distinguish between sources."
The researchers who conducted the study recommend that food marketing regulations should be applied to new forms of digital marketing. 
"Tighter restrictions are needed around the digital marketing of unhealthy foods that children are exposed to, and vloggers should not be permitted to promote unhealthy foods to vulnerable young people on social media," Coates said in a statement.

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The Effect of Online Effort and Reputation of Physicians on Patients’ Choice: 3-Wave Data Analysis of China’s Good Doctor Website 

The Effect of Online Effort and Reputation of Physicians on Patients’ Choice: 3-Wave Data Analysis of China’s Good Doctor Website  | Social Media and Healthcare |

Background: Nowadays, patients are seeking physician information more frequently via the internet. Physician-rating websites (PRWs) have been recognized as the most convenient way to gain insight and detailed information about specific physicians before receiving consultation. However, little is known about how the information provided on PRWs may affect patients’ decisions to seek medical advice.

Objective: This study aimed to examine whether the physicians’ online efforts and their reputation have a relationship with patients’ choice of physician on PRWs.

Methods: A model, based on social exchange theory, was developed to analyze the factors associated with the number of online patients. A 3-wave data collection exercise, covering 4037 physicians on China’s Good Doctor website, was conducted during the months of February, April, and June 2017. Increases in consultation in a 60-day period were used as the dependent variable, whereas 2 series of data were analyzed using linear regression modeling. The fixed-effect model was used to analyze the 3-wave data.

Results: The adjusted R2 value in the linear regression models were 0.28 and 0.27, whereas in the fixed-effect model, it was .30. Both the linear regression and fixed-effect models yielded a good fit. A positive effect of physicians’ effort on the aggregated number of online patients was identified in all models (R2=0.30 and R2=0.37 in 2 regression models; R2=0.23 in fixed effect model; P<.001). The proxies of physicians’ reputations indicated different results, with total number of page views of physicians’ homepages (R2=0.43 and R2=0.46; R2=0.16; P<.001) and number of votes received (R2=0.33 and R2=0.27; R2=0.43; P<.001) being seen as positive. Virtual gifts were not significant in all models, whereas thank-you messages were only significant in the fixed-effect model (R2=0.11; P=.02). The effort made by physicians online is positively associated with their aggregated number of patients consulted, whereas the effect of a physician’s reputation remains uncertain. The control effect of a physician’s title and hospital’s level was not significant in all linear regressions.

Conclusions: Both the effort and reputation of physicians online contribute to the increased number of online patients’ consultation; however, the influence of a physician’s reputation varies. This may imply that physicians’ online effort and reputation are critical in attracting patients and that strategic manipulation of physician profiles is worthy of study. Practical insights are also discussed.

J Med Internet Res 2019;21(3):e10170


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Medical influencers on social media: Beware the pitfalls of sponsorship

Medical influencers on social media: Beware the pitfalls of sponsorship | Social Media and Healthcare |

On November 7, 2018, physicians on social media rallied around the hashtag “#ThisIsOurLane in response to the National Rifle Association (NRA), which earlier that day had tweeted, “Someone should tell self-important anti-gun doctors to stay in their lane.” Among those rallying were physician leaders with upwards of 53,000 followers, and they used their significant platform to advocate for health policy change.

While #ThisIsOurLane may be the most public example of physicians using social media to promote an agenda, there is another one burgeoning within the fringes of Instagram: the “medical student influencer.” Tags like “#medstudentlife, #residentphysician and #medblog” yield thousands of examples of medical students and residents leveraging their soon-to-be profession to market not only their “personal brand” in an effort to gain followers, but also products on behalf of companies that pay them upwards of $100 for each post. These accounts are well-curated with carefully arranged photos of scrubs, coffee, textbooks and anatomy models, and are geared toward the consumer who wants to experience the “glamorous” world of medicine.

Those who work in medicine know this is not an accurate depiction of clerkship, residency, and professional practice. Not shown in these posts is the lengthy training process, the massive financial investment, the difficult and often heartbreaking patient encounters, or what it’s really like being bedside in an OR, standing and watching for hours. While some influencers may argue that they use their platforms to help mentor pre-medical students and shed light on the training experience, we would argue that this is a misleading depiction of what it is to train to be a doctor.

The posts, however, don’t always end at lattes and fitted scrubs: Some are sponsored by companies trying to market products unrelated to medicine, like watches, jewellery, laptop cases, and headphones. And there are those that are more questionable—detox teas, for example, and fitness supplements. One popular diet and weight loss tea marketed by celebrities and medicine influencers alike has on their website an “ambassador” program with associated perks to the marketer, including a commission, discount codes, and complimentary products. Platforms like Linktree allow Instagram influencers to link directly to product sponsors with attached discount codes, providing a financial kickback based on the number of customers who buy the product using their codes.

What are the ethics of this practice? At a time when public mistrust in science and medicine is increasing, doctors must tread carefully online. We believe that it is unethical for physicians and physicians-in-training to be promoting or endorsing products on social media, particularly products that claim to have health benefits but lack the scientific evidence to demonstrate these claims. There is no difference between a medical student or resident using social media to market products for financial kickbacks and Dr. Oz, who is well-known for using his status to endorse—for lack of a better term—quackery. Both involve using professional status for personal and financial gain.

There is a need for specific policies and guidelines that address how medical professionals engage with for-profit companies on social media. The Canadian Federation of Medical Students has a guide for medical students for professionalism online which has excellent tips on taking ownership of what is posted online, but without any clear guidelines regarding sponsorship, interaction with private industry, and endorsements. Neither do clear guidelines exist through the Canadian Medical Protective Association, whose role is to support and protect physicians by providing legal defense, education, and risk management. The Canadian Medical Association’s code of ethics (which applies to medical students) states in article 50: “avoid promoting, as a member of the medical profession any service (except your own) or product for personal gain.” In our search, this is the only clear guideline set out by the medical profession on this matter. While medical schools cannot dictate or police how students spend their free time, they should reinforce the code of ethics and ensure students are aware of the ethical and professional boundaries of such behaviour.

With medical learners facing increasing levels of burnout, financial stressors and social isolation, it may be that becoming a social media influencer is a behaviour that serves a purpose, such as providing a social network or income at a time when people feel isolated and student debt accumulates. While we did reach out to several medical students and residents for comment, we did not receive any response. The reality is we don’t know what drives this behaviour, yet it exists across several industries and is quite lucrative.

Can we blame our learners? The most concerning feature of this practice is that medical learners are acting as vehicles for large businesses to gain access to a new marketing opportunity. Perhaps the conversation should be about how we as a medical profession should protect our medical learners from large businesses. There is a need for policies prohibiting medical professionals from engaging with for-profit companies on social media, and medical schools should ensure that learners understand the risks associated with using social media as a marketing tool. The minimal guidance provided by associations and throughout medical education on this matter leaves learners vulnerable.

Gaibrie Stephen is a resident physician in family medicine at the University of Toronto.

Allison Brown is a Ph.D. candidate in the Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary.

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Bringing patients and providers together one tweet at a time

Bringing patients and providers together one tweet at a time | Social Media and Healthcare |

As an open forum for human interaction, social media have become the great equalizer of health information – providing a means for patients and health care providers to connect outside of the hospital or local clinic setting and learn from one another.

No longer a static “read-only Web,” the Internet provides a space for dynamic interactions between users. Individuals can create, post, and share content relevant to them through individual and collective blogs (e.g. the Mighty); microblogs (e.g. Twitter); social networking sites (e.g., Facebook, LinkedIn, Inspire, and Patients Like Me); video, podcasts, and other file-sharing platforms (e.g. YouTube); e-gaming; and wikis. For health care consumers – patients and caregivers – this new, participatory Internet set the stage for a health revolution. Over the last decade, the interaction-driven landscape of Web 2.0 has changed how health and health care are understood and navigated. Able to obtain and share health information, engage with clinicians and health care institutions, and, importantly, connect with others with similar illness experiences, patients and caregivers now have the tools to be more informed, connected, and proactive health care consumers than ever before.]

But patients and caregivers aren’t the only ones benefiting from an interactive, and highly social, Internet. Up to 65% of researchers and health care providers are estimated to actively use social media for professional purposes, such as social networking, professional development, and coverage of medical meetings. It’s now common practice for meetings and courses to have their own hashtag, and many have relaxed rules against photography to facilitate slide-sharing on social media. It has even been suggested that within then next decade, medical professionals will not be able to be successful scholars without some activity on social media.

This widespread adoption of social media truly marks a redefinition of how patients and providers obtain information and make connections in the information era.

While many providers readily recognize the value of social media in augmenting their professional activities, far fewer are comfortable using social media to interact with the patient community. Concerns about the spread of medical misinformation, breaches of professional boundaries, and risks to patient-sensitive information dominate the debate. These concerns have even led to the establishment of guidelines on social media use by health care institutions and professional societies, including the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American College of Physicians and the Federation of State Medical Boards (ACP-FSMB).

But despite concerns of misuse, social media can improve how medical care is performed and received, offering new opportunities for both patients and providers to connect and learn. While the potential benefits of social media in health care are many, the following are a selection of examples of how social media can enhance patient-provider communication, give voice to the patient perspective, and, ultimately, lead to better outcomes.

Social Media Provide Patients and Caregivers with Emotional Support

A 2012 survey from the PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Health Research Institute found that one-third of people actively use social media for health-related matters, with 25% having posted about their health experience online and 20% having joined a health forum or online community. Adding to this, the Health Online 2013 research survey from Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project found that among those looking for health information online in the last year, 18% actively searched for others who might share the same health concerns and 26% read or watched someone else’s account of their health experiences or medical issues on social media.

At that time, 60% of Americans regularly used some type of social media. Since then, that percentage has risen to 69% of the population, and reflects, among other factors, the growing adoption of social media by older adults.

Having stable social support has long been understood to improve health outcomes for patients. But, for those affected by a chronic illness, the ability to share illness-related experiences with others who face similar challenges online offers additional benefits. While 18% of the population have searched online for others who might have similar health concerns, this percentage goes up to 23% for Internet users living with a chronic illness or rare disease. With social media, patients are no longer constrained by their localized community but can connect with others around the world, establishing meaningful relationships, sharing information and advice, and building communities of support. These benefits have been found to be particularly important among those with poorer health status, those who experience illness stigmatization or trivialization, and/or those who are isolated or disconnected from traditional support.

Social media offer new ways to build social networks, connecting patients and caregivers with others with similar illness experiences and fostering emotional support.

Social Media Lead to More Equal Communication Between Patients and Providers

Not so long ago, the divide between the health care provider and the health care seeker was absolute – fixed in place and enforced by the localized office visit.

But social media are changing this.

By literally taking away the walls of the patient-provider interaction, social media have changed how patients and providers communicate and relate to one another, upending the traditional patient-provider dynamic and empowering patients to take a more active role in their care.

A recent review of over 1,000 journal articles on the use of social media by patients for health-related reasons found that social media use by patients can lead to more equal communication between patients and providers – an outcome stemming from a heightened feeling of confidence on the part of the patient regarding his or her relationship with their provider. By increasing patients’ confidence in how they communicate with their providers, social media democratizes the decision-making process, empowering patients to become involved in key decisions relating to their care. This may even serve to encourage patient adherence to their treatment plans, improve patient satisfaction with the care they receive , and increase patient willingness to seek medical attention.

Social Media Help Providers Better Understand the Patient Perspective

Clinical research has not only become more patient-centered, it’s become increasingly patient-driven. The experiences and perspectives of patients and caregivers are playing an increasingly central role in informing and shaping research aims and practices. This is evident in the implementation of patient-reported outcome (PRO) measures in clinical trials and increasing efforts to engage patients and caregivers in study design, drug approval, and health policy decisions.

This is also true in clinical practice. Insights gathered from patients and caregivers have been used to make hospitals and other centers of care more patient-friendly, identify and address disparities in access to care, and shape the patient-provider interaction.

While the available literature on the role of social media in promoting information-sharing in health care addresses patient-to-patient, provider-to-provider, and provider-to-patient learning, notably absent is the potential for the transmission of information from patients to providers.

Health care professionals and institutions can learn a lot from patients and caregivers. And, social media can help facilitate this learning. Patient and caregiver accounts of their illness-related experiences and needs on social media can help providers and health care institutions better understand their patients and use this knowledge to develop solutions that improve outcomes. As gastroparesis patient advocate @melissarvh tweeted, “It’s (patient presence on social media) underutilized by researchers, medical professionals, pharma, & others. We are a significant resource & you all are thinking too small by dismissing our value to you. 20,000 patients in my #Gastroparesis group, all waiting to be heard.” She goes on to tweet, “Those involved w/ our care need to see our struggles and learn from us. Both parties would benefit.”

Gastroparesis is a chronic digestive condition characterized by the presence of symptoms that persist or reoccur long-term together with slowed emptying of the stomach. While up to five million people are estimated to live with gastroparesis in the United States, the condition remains little-known, and those affected often face significant diagnostic delays.

In recognition of Gastroparesis Awareness Month 2018, the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD), a patient-driven non-profit education and research organization, launched a campaign on Twitter to raise awareness and elevate the experiences and needs of patients and caregivers using #HearMeGP. During August, patients and caregivers, other patient organizations and professional societies, treatment manufacturers and e-health companies, professional journals, health care institutions, and providers all tweeted with #HearMeGP. Participants shared facts about gastroparesis, videos and blogs documenting their personal experiences with the disease, messages of support and encouragement, and held discussions about their hopes for the future of gastroparesis treatment and care. The campaign reached almost 300,000 accounts and earned more than one million impressions.

As a gathering place for people who share similar illness experiences, social media can help give voice to the suffering experienced by patients. Patients are coming together to share their lived experiences and needs. As a wellspring of patient insights into the experience of disease, social media can help providers and health care institutions understand the unmet needs of chronic illness patients and their caregivers and work towards solutions. #HearMeGP, and campaigns like it, illustrate how patients and caregivers, providers, and others, can come together on social media to make their perspectives heard and build a connected and informed stakeholder community.

While social media hold certain pitfalls, their ability to bridge traditional divides in medicine and encourage information-sharing between patients and providers has changed the understanding and delivery of health and health care. Access to new avenues of information and support has emboldened patients and caregivers to take charge of their own care and wellbeing, working in partnership with their providers. And, in addition to offering opportunities to connect with other health care professionals, patient demands on social media to be heard are challenging providers and health care institutions to improve how they engage with patients both online and in person. In the end, we get a more informed and connected community of patients and providers learning from each other, strengthening relationships, and ultimately, improving outcomes. As concluded by Wald et al. (2007), “Collaborative teamwork between physician and patient might just lead to a genuine partnership, improving the quality of health care and engendering a more trusting physician-patient relationship. Might be worth a try.”

About the IFFGD

The International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD) is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit education and research organization dedicated to improving the lives of people affected by chronic gastrointestinal (GI) illnesses. Founded in 1991, IFFGD helps improve patient outcomes by enhancing awareness, improving education, and supporting and encouraging research into treatments and cures for chronic GI disorders.

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Like, Retweet, Repeat: The use of social media in healthcare, illustrated by three stakeholder perspectives

Like, Retweet, Repeat: The use of social media in healthcare, illustrated by three stakeholder perspectives | Social Media and Healthcare |


In its simplest terms, social media is any interactive communication platform that enables people to interact and converse (Stones and Smith, 2018). In the last decade, social media has emerged as a channel for seeking and exchanging information in ways previously unimaginable. However, with a generation of young people who are more likely to seek initial medical advice from the internet, it remains the responsibility of the current generation of patients, carers and healthcare professionals to embrace social media and ensure that accessible, evidence-informed information is readily available (Stones and Smith, 2018).

During a workshop at the Sixth Children’s Research Network for Ireland and Northern Ireland conference, several anxieties about social media were raised. The importance of social media being complementary, and not a replacement for existing communication mediums was highlighted. While the benefits of social media were clearly recognised, many individuals also worried that excessive technology usage by young people could be disruptive to children’s social interactions, clouding their judgement between the real and virtual world. Since social media has moved into spaces it may not have originally been designed for, such as health and wellbeing, it is also less clear as to how the voice of young people in relation to social media can be heard now and in the future. For example, if young people (or their parents/carers) consent to a video being published on social media, what impact does this have on their adult selves, and how do young people revoke permission for such publications in the future? Such questions remain unanswered; however, technology should not be criticised for the issues that young people are currently facing, and will continue to face, as a result of social media. Rather, it is a lack of current resource to mitigate against negative social media uses that may prevent individuals and organisations from using social media to its maximum potential.

Placing the Social in Social Media

Digital analyst Brian Solis said that “social media is about sociology, not technology” (Solis, 2007). Indeed, Fuchs (2017) emphasises that the “media” in social media is not about technology, but techno-social systems in which information and communication technologies enable and constrain the creation, dissemination and absorption of knowledge. The underlying social processes of social media are often overlooked in current practice; however, they can help to demystify some of the common confusion that exists. According to Fuchs (2017), the three notions of sociality (Durkheim’s social facts, Weber’s social actions/relations, and Marx’s and Tönnies’ co-operation) (Table 1) can be integrated into a model of human social activity, whereby knowledge is viewed as a threefold dynamic process of cognition, communication, and co-operation (Hofkirchner, 2013). In simplified terms, in order to co-operate, you need to communicate, and in order to communicate, you need to cognise (Fuchs and Sandoval, 2013Fuchs, 2017). A common pitfall in practice is enabling individuals to co-operate via social media, which is reliant on mutual, engaging conversations. Enabling and encouraging co-operation through social media is indeed a challenge, but one which has been taken on board within healthcare, which forms the focus of this article. In order to illustrate how social media has been used in healthcare, three European perspectives, representing different stakeholders in healthcare, will be discussed, illuminating how social media has been used to share information, engage in dialogue, develop identities, and foster co-operative partnerships, for example, between patients and healthcare professionals.

Table 1. The three notions of sociality integrated into a model of human society activity (Fuchs, Hofkirchner, Schafranek, Raffl, Sandoval and Bichler, 2010Fuchs and Sandoval, 2013Fuchs, 2017).

Sociological theory

Application to social media

Emile Durkheim’s social facts (Durkheim, 1982)

Social facts are fixed and objectified social structures that constantly condition social behaviour.

Social media platforms are ‘social’ since they represent structures that objectify human interests, understandings, goal and intentions, influencing society and social behaviour.

Max Weber’s social actions and social relations (Weber, 1978)

Social behaviour is a reciprocal symbolic interaction.

Social media enables communication over spatio-temporal distances.

Karl Marx’s and Ferdinand Tönnies’ co-operation (Tonnies, 1988Marx and Engels, 2016)

Communities are social systems working together, based on feelings of togetherness, mutual dependence, and values, resulting in a shared sense of ownership.

Social media enables the collaborative production of digital knowledge in the form of collective intelligence (more than the sum of individual knowledge). It also brings people together, mediating virtual togetherness.

Perspective: Social Media and Young People’s Identity

Identity and social media are now somewhat intrinsically interlinked (Durante, 2011). Social connectivity via smartphones, tablets, and computers has led to a gradual intrusion of social media into the lives of young people, transforming the way in which they interact and converse. As a consequence, the identities of many young people are formed, influenced, and shaped online. Identity development in adolescence can be a confusing and challenging time (Kroger, 2007). For young people with life-limiting and life-threatening conditions, their identity can often be constructed, shaped, and influenced by their condition, to the point where for many, it is viewed as an internalised part of their self (Brown and Sourkes, 2006). The capacity for social media to reduce social isolation (Nesby and Salamonsen, 2016), provide a platform for emotive expression (Treadgold and Kuperberg, 2010), and increase feelings of empowerment (Griffiths, Panteli, Brunton, Marder and Williamson, 2014), has resulted in young people with life-limiting and life-threatening conditions being able to showcase and illuminate the diverseness and richness of their identities online. One example of how social media can allow young people to showcase different aspects of their identity (Price and Alinden, 2017) was demonstrated through the late Adam Bojelian, a young person with cerebral palsy (Bojelian, 2018). Despite the restrictions of his condition, Adam did not let his identity be defined by his condition. Instead, Adam used social media to showcase his skills as a poet, where he was known as “AdsthePoet”; therefore, providing him with a platform to showcase his unique and imaginative identity with an audience who may never have had the opportunity to communicate and learn from Adam outside of social media.

Perspective: Social Media and Charitable Organisations

Extending beyond individuals, charitable organisations who have evolved to advocate for people living with a variety of health conditions have benefited from using social media to communicate and co-operate with a variety of individuals (Courtney, Shabestari and Kuo, 2013). In Ireland, healthcare services for young people with arthritis have been inadequate, with the first Irish paediatric rheumatologist only appointed in 2006. Since then, patient referrals and assessments have increased by almost 400% (Health Service Executive, 2015). However, outside of the Dublin area, there are limited services for these young people, meaning that the vast majority have their diagnosis confirmed and their treatment planned in Dublin (Health Service Executive, 2015). With such inadequate services, parents of young people have found peer and parental support through social media, managed by the Irish Children’s Arthritis Network (iCAN). Using social media, iCAN have, and continue to address their core goals of support, advocacy and awareness (Irish Children’s Arthritis Network, 2018). iCAN’s closed Facebook group is its most utilised resource used by parents and carers of young people with arthritis in Ireland, since it provides a space for people to ask questions to other parents and carers with lived experiences in a safe and supportive environment. This reflects the three notions of sociality, involving cognition of knowledge about arthritis and how it affects children, non-judgmental communication between parents and carers, and co-operation in the form of guidance and support that is otherwise suboptimal or absent for families. The organisation also has a public Facebook page which is used to inform and foster dialogue between iCAN and other stakeholders. 

Combined, iCAN’s Facebook presence reaches more people than the charity could realistically achieve in a face-to-face environment; so, they actively use social media as a complementary component of their engagement strategy, alongside face-to-face events. iCAN also find that Twitter is a useful way to raise awareness, in addition to facilitating discussion and interaction with a broader community of stakeholders. For younger individuals, more contemporary social networking sites, such as Instagram and Snapchat (Vaterlaus, Barnett, Roche and Young, 2016) consist of the creation and dissemination of images and instant messages, which are increasingly important mechanisms for engagement with these individuals, since young people are interacting daily through these platforms with each other. Social media was something iCAN had not thought about prior to establishing the charity; however, the organisation realised that it is an integral component of the organisation’s identity, as has shown to be the case for other charitable organisations (Barnes, 2011) and stakeholder groups, out of the need for people to feel part of a community beyond physical environments.

Perspective: Social Media and Healthcare Professionals

Similar to patients and charitable organisations, social media has become an increasingly popular means of communication among the healthcare professional community, enabling fast and easy dissemination and absorption of scientific and clinical knowledge (Nikiphorou, Studenic, Ammitzbøll, Canavan, Jani, Ospelt and Berenbaum, 2017a). In the world of rheumatology, healthcare professionals use social media to communicate with colleagues; identify job opportunities; and to keep updated with the latest advances, amongst other activities (Nikiphorou et al., 2017a). Beyond individual use, many organisations, including European and American societies, have demonstrated a strong social media presence to promote activities at conferences and other educational events, as well as for reaching out to patients and healthcare professionals; however, co-operation is commonly missing from such social media strategies, since according to the threefold dynamic process of sociality, co-operation is reliant on reciprocal conversations, which is not the same as conventional advertising approaches using unidirectional conversation. Novel uses of social media in an educational manner inspired Marx’s and Tönnies’ co-operation model include journal club discussions on Twitter (e.g. @EULAR_JC). These possibilities have made social media particularly attractive to healthcare professionals, and while examples from the rheumatology community have been highlighted, the use of social media by healthcare professionals to facilitate communication (Hamm, Chisholm, Shulhan, Milne, Scott, Klassen and Hartling, 2013) and postgraduate education (Bullock and Webb, 2015) is not restricted to rheumatology. Indeed, there appears to be a general “wave” of social media engagement across primary and secondary care settings and specialities, helping to bridge boundaries in communication, thus demonstrating the power of social media in helping healthcare professionals to keep up-to-date, share knowledge and improve the quality of patient care (McGowan, Wasko, Vartabedian, Miller, Freiherr and Abdolrasulnia, 2012).

The opportunity for “live” discussions among healthcare professionals and patients on social media has taken professional interaction beyond the clinic walls and beyond one’s own physical working environment. The ease and speed of access of information on social media therefore provides a dynamic medium for professional interaction and co-operation with potential benefits to both the provider and consumer of information (Nikiphorou, Studenic, Alunno, Canavan, Jani and Berenbaum, 2017b). However, this interaction does not come without risks. A key concern for healthcare professionals is how such information may be interpreted by others. So whereas acceptance of social media use seems to be increasing, concerns remain over the blurring of professional boundaries, breaching patient confidentiality and misusing and misinterpreting information (Bukhari and Galloway, 2017Stones and Smith, 2018). The large amounts of information provided on social media can be perceived as a strength, especially in view of the difficulty in manually obtaining similar information from physical sources. Yet, it can also be perceived as a weakness, since it can lead to information overload (Eckler, Worsowicz and Rayburn, 2010) when it is not disseminated and absorbed in an optimal manner. While the lack of control of what and how information is shared on social media can be a limitation, the advantages of instant access to a wealth of information are considerable, when used wisely. Social media use in the healthcare professional world therefore poses new possibilities but also new challenges, necessitating caution and appropriate use within professional boundaries, without jeopardising the social interaction and co-operation that underpins the very function of social media.


Social media is increasingly used as a means of identifying and disseminating health-related information by various stakeholders (Scanfeld, Scanfeld and Larson, 2010). Despite obvious caveats, social media continues to provide young people, their families, healthcare professionals and organisations with an accessible space to discuss, learn, and develop their thoughts, identities and personas. While research reinforces the stance that patients use social media mainly for social support (Smailhodzic, Hooijsma, Boonstra and Langley, 2016), this is evidently not the sole use of social media as illustrated in this article, since in these situations, social media is a supplementary platform to real-world interactions. However, what can be learned from social media use in the patient community is that the principles of sociality must underpin the very essence of social media use if it is to continue gathering pace (Chaffey, 2016). Whatever the future holds, cognition, communication, and co-operation must underpin social media activities by all stakeholders (Hofkirchner, 2013) for it to be effective in facilitating conversation, embodying the definition of human social activity in a connected era. 

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