In the rapidly changing world of today, companies are facing major challenges when it comes to not only R&D, technology, and global and local markets, but also the social, environmental and legal context.
Social media have become part of daily life for many, and the fast, informal communication style represents both possibility and liability for healthcare organizations.
Social Media are also playing a major part in shifting the balance of power in the doctor–patient relationship. The doctor is no longer perceived as all-knowing. People are increasingly interested in health, lifestyle, conditions and (drug) treatments, and know how to access information. Social media allow people to converse quickly, easily, and broadly on topics which used to be off-limits due to their embarrassing, scary, intimate or complicated nature.
Reviewing the role of Social Media in healthcare becomes increasingly relevant, as the public gains access to quality and cost ratings regarding health and healthcare. Patients talk to their friends, friends talk to their neighbours, neighbours talk to pharmacists, pharmacists talk to doctors, doctors talk to patients, patients talk to pharmacists, etc. There’s a lot of talking going on through Social Media…
And a lot has already been said (more talking) about social media in healthcare: there are hundreds of articles addressing pro’s and cons, including:
+ Spreading knowledge, awareness of certain health conditions helps prevention and early detection
+ Self diagnosis & medication with over the counter and household remedies
+ Anonymity in discussing ‘embarrassing bodies’
+ Patients find support with others going through the same
- Information overload, suitability of information to level of knowledge & emotional state
- Trustworthiness of sources: who is providing the information?
- Self-diagnosis can be misdiagnosis
- Negative impact of Social networking on mental health
Everyone is ready to jump on the social media wagon, unless they’re already driving it or have been hit by it, but very few clear strategies are uncovered that show real impact through outcomes. Is that not what we are always talking about; OUTCOMES, and more specifically; PROMS!
With data available through Social Media we can assess outcomes and use these to realise, or at least measure, a real impact. One way to extract data from social media is by Data Mining, using so-called digital spiders that search the web for the occurrence of keywords. The accumulated numbers provide insight in general societal and healthcare trends.
However, data mining is passive. It does not answer very specific questions. In order to realise impact (positive improvements in healthcare), firstly hypotheses need to be formed. These hypotheses can be tested through research with validated objective patient panels.
Social Media come into play here as the fuel for vehicles (tools) like patient panels, that allow research aimed at finding out how to integrate the missing components of patient experience and their perceived value into the quality of standards within the healthcare environment.
By researching specific hypotheses, issues in the healthcare environment can be addressed as follows:
+ Validation of assumptions and common beliefs (increase efficiency in care)
+ Stimulating shared decision-making (increase compliance due to freedom of choice and thus concordance between doctors and patients)
+ Accuracy of information (increase safety in care and increase awareness)
In order to research hypotheses for INSIGHTS for OUTCOMES that make a positive IMPACT: you need targeted questions to ask a targeted receptive patient audience. This will reduce the amount of conversations based on nothing but hot air, and will start entirely new conversations on how and where real outcomes can be used to create real impact.
I know I’m doing am lot of talking here, so let me give an example of best practice: we started a patient panel, partly built through social media engagement. Our panel patients have been very committed to contributing their opinions through online questionnaires and focus group discussions as part of Patient Intelligence Panel (PIP Health). Mostly, patients were very excited about being able to contribute to broadening the views and perceptions of all stakeholders in healthcare. Plus, when a PIP member fills in a questionnaire, an incentive is paid towards the patient organisation or charity of the member’s choice. The outcomes are presented to the stakeholders to improve their services.
So power to the people, but use it wisely, use this power as fuel for structured vehicles (tools) to produce outcomes.
Nadine van Dongen
Director of Patient Intelligence Panel
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