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How social reveals doctor/patient interactions

“Cyberchondria”.

It’s the anxiety we experience when we excessively google our medical symptoms and ailments.

The term coincided with the rise of the internet in the 1990s. Worrying about our health is now only a click away – and so are the medical professionals that can help us.

As Ipsos has shown, the pandemic has accelerated the digitalisation of the patient journey, as we’ve embraced telehealth and virtual care. We, put simply, consult the internet first and the doctor second.

Social media data has thereby become a critical component of understanding patients and doctors – and a key input into developing products and services that meet their needs. Compelling stories told by patients, families, and caregivers are data-rich but fragmented. Comprehensive, human-led data analysis is the key to extracting information, meaning, and value that serves the interests of patients.

Here are the three most significant ways that social media is transforming patient care:

1) Patient Empowerment

Social media is where people access and share information about their healthcare concerns. The descriptions, questions and medical advice that would previously never have left the four walls of a doctor’s surgery is now in black and white, for everyone to see. By analysing forums, blogs, and social network sites, social data reveals where patients seek information, how they’re diagnosed and how patients seek treatments. These insights can tell us what patients think, feel, and do at every stage of illness and treatment, so organisations can understand how patients talk about their conditions and what support they need.

Having access to expansive information also puts more control in patients’ hands. With instantaneous feedback and reviews of doctors, medical practices and hospitals online, patients can shop around and compare care options and outcomes.

On Twitter, patients use the hashtags #MedTwitter, #doctors, #waitingroom and #ThanksToMyGP to publicly review the professional help they’ve received. Some comment on the atmosphere in the waiting room to give other patients an idea of what to expect.

Others praise their GPs and recommend them to other users:

It’s clear that social media validation is becoming key to legitimising and marketing many medical practices, as many hospitals and doctors promote their good patient reviews on social media.

Why is this important? As more patients use social media to share their patient journeys in general (and experiences of specific doctors, treatments and medications in particular), organisations must be able to decode these conversations to spot what’s broken and how to fix it. Raw and unashamed patient feedback is the key to innovating and making an impact.

2) Building virtual communities

Patients are using social media to discuss health conditions and to comfort one another throughout the treatment process – especially in the case of chronic and rare diseases. Finding and connecting with other patients who know what you’re going through makes the isolating experience more bearable.

Why is this important? Analysing the conversations can help organisations understand what areas of medical support are failing and what resources patients need to feel better supported.

As this quote from a Reddit member shows, it can be as little as taking patients’ concerns seriously:

“For the first time since entering puberty (at 9 years old) I feel like a doctor listened. I had to fight tooth and nail to get a diagnosis of PCOS 4 years ago. But I live with chronic pain. On a good day it’s a 3. On bad days I am bed ridden. Today I met my new PCM. She listened. She asked questions that I have been asked a million times before. But she believed my answers. She asked if I knew what endometriosis is. It was hard not to laugh. I have been trying to get tested for it since I turned 18. But was always told “the only treatment is surgery. What if you want kids?” She put in the orders and referrals necessary immediately. I cried ugly tears.”

3) Examining doctor-patient relationships

By nature, social media encourages two-way dialogue. This dialogue is helping to break down the barriers between physicians and patients, to the point where we’re seeing the rise of the ‘nursefluencer’ and the ‘social media doctor. Dr Phil – move aside. There are new sheriffs in town.

Many users reach out to today’s prominent medical influencers with their concerns and queries and healthcare professionals respond by giving lifestyle support, preventative medical tips and – above all – debunking misinformation. One hospital in Philadelphia has even created an entirely new position to tackle misinformation online: Austian Chiang – Jefferson Health’s ‘medical social media officer’. Accordingly, a lot of the social media content of online doctors is to dispel medical myths:

@doctorsood

#stitch with @MalTat #womenshealth #obgyn #femalepain #iudinsertion

♬ original sound – DoctorSood, M.D.

@doctormike

Reply to @caroline5393 #gum #learnontiktok #tiktokpartner

♬ original sound – Doctor Mike

Why is this important? To understand when and how online patient-doctor conversations can replace offline interactions, organisations should use social data to examine who interacts, how and about what. This also enables brands to understand how medical misinformation spreads and how it can be best tackled online.

So, as we can see, social media is a driver of a patient-centred model, amplifying the patient voice and two-way communication between supportive community networks as well as between doctors and patients.

Much of the patient experience becomes transparent in social media posts, videos and pictures – including complaints, daily struggles, disease progression, unmet medical needs and adverse reactions. Careful analysis lets us tap into these conversations and fix what’s broken. Learn how to improve. Speak the same language as the patients.

Social insight, in short, can translate the patient perspective into innovation.

 

By Louise Alestam 

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