How Patients Use Social Media as a Health Resource

Think about how most folks find doctors, dentists, or therapists. Once it was word of mouth from a friend or family member; however, nowadays word of mouth also includes tweets or Facebook status updates.

In a PwC study entitled “Social Media ‘Likes’ Healthcare,” which polled 1,040 US adults, researchers found that patients use more information found on social media to assist them in making health care choices; for instance, 41% of those surveyed said social sites would influence their choice of a specific physician, hospital, or medical facility.

We know patients rely on social media to make decisions about what they buy, who they see, and which medicines they take, but what about health advice? Can users glean meaningful health info from social media?

In that same PwC study, researchers found:

  • About 33% use social media to obtain health information and track and share symptoms
  • More than 80% (ages 18–24) and 45% (ages 45–64) said they are likely to share health information on social sites
  • More than 40% said health information on social sites would affect how they manage a chronic condition or approach diet and exercise
  • 34% said social media would affect their decision to take certain medications

All these stats show how potential patients use social media beyond the typical product or service referral; they’re using social as resources that can influence behavior. In a post on KevinMD, Jackie Fox concurs with the PwC study, explaining that Twitter is a valuable health resource because:

  • Patients can have real-time conversations with others who’ve experienced the same conditions, symptoms, or situations.
  • There are incredible doctors and nurses tweeting Q&A, sharing best practices, and providing helpful links.
  • Scheduled discussions that unfold via a hashtag (like #solvept) bring professionals and patients together in educated conversations.
  • Twitter is instant, so it’s easy to discover breaking news, which enables patients to stay current on what’s unfolding in health and medicine.

A 2011 Pew Internet and American Life Project study found that one in five Americans uses the Internet to find people with health concerns similar to their own. However, “the real magic happens when someone with a great idea is able to connect with one of these patient groups who stand ready and willing to help,” said Susannah Fox, the project’s associate director.

While social media is undoubtedly valuable, it’s important patients use it as just one resource, not the one and only. Along with knowledge, comfort, and community, social is full of scams so encourage your patients to use what they find online as a platform for further research and conversation—your office is perfect for this post-internet discussion.

By providing your patients with a face-to-face, expert, and personal forum, you can be more than their rehab therapist—you can be a pillar of wisdom, a myth-debunker, and a trusted confidant. And that brings us right back to the beginning of this conversation: word of mouth on social. Patients will not only recommend you as a practitioner, but as a community expert.

About the Author

Heidi Jannenga, PT, MPT, ATC/L
Heidi was a scholarship athlete at the University of California, Davis. Following a knee injury and subsequent successful rehabilitation, Heidi developed a passion for physical therapy. She started her 16-year physical therapy career after graduating with her Masters from the Institute of Physical Therapy in St. Augustine, Florida.

In 2008, Heidi and her husband Brad launched WebPT, the leading web-based Electronic Medical Record (EMR) and comprehensive practice management service for physical therapists. As the company’s COO, Heidi is responsible for product development/management, billing services, and customer support.

She now resides in Phoenix with Brad and their daughter Ava.