Most companies recognize that social media have become established as viable business tools. Many leaders are using sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to connect to their customers, recruit followers, and promote their services in real time. But the opportunity to connect the dots and utilize social media in a safe and meaningful way has yet to be fully realized. Whoever gets there first has the opportunity to revolutionize and forever change the medical industry.
The Current Situation
Social media sites for the medical industry range from broad, open platforms to niche, narrowly concentrated forums. Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are broad platforms for individuals and corporations alike to broadcast experiences and opinions large and small. CancerDoc, HealthLine, and RevolutionHealth are more narrowly targeted places for rapidly communicating and connecting to those who are sharing similar experiences, communicating information, and sharing ideas amongst patients and medical industry peers. Expert Q&A sites, such as WebMD and AskDrWiki, are popular with patients who can find credible answers to their health-related questions. Physician networks (e.g. Sermo and Ozmosis) serve as “virtual water coolers” where physicians can collaborate in real time.
But no matter what portal is being used by patient or provider, the single most beneficial aspect of social media is the collaboration enabled by the openness of vast numbers. Most are trying to get their message out, educate, inform, and simply share. The portals themselves, empowered by the strength of their members, are positioning themselves as the source of true, real-time data and insight. Many healthcare facilities use social media to crowdsource, or basically ask for input from users to help develop or improve products and services quickly and efficiently. Others are enabling real-time learning through podcasts of surgeries, which medical students can attend remotely.
In 2010 specifically, we saw a significant jump in medical companies utilizing social media tools. The Mayo Clinic has gained more than 33,000 Facebook fans in a little more than a year. The Mayo “wall” is filled with patients’ thanks, interviews, advice, industry news, and nearly 150 videos. Its presence in this space has strengthened the Mayo name as a thought leader in medical care and innovation.
While all this is important to building relationships and brands, these building blocks could be the source for more revolutionary advancements. Over time, the intimate knowledge of a contributor, a regional demographic, or an international group of sufferers could be used as proactive triggers for action. Imagine a device that collects signs of your general well-being, then the data from this blends with your Facebook postings on location, time, diet, and feeling while aggregating information from other users and facilities. When linked to your medical facility and medication status, your pharmacy, your caregiver, or your gym could generate guidance and suggestions, which are sent back to you daily. If a hazardous situation is suspected by auto-analysis of the data, then this could directly alert your doctor to provide personal, quick advice and instructions. The potential to use social media and connected, aware devices for well-being and preventative care is huge, as are the possibilities for predicting and tracking patterns in health globally.
Social media offer unique opportunities for scalable interaction and collaboration, a key reason medical and lifestyle device manufacturers have much opportunity ahead of them. By developing products that become part of the user’s daily lives (think how important your smartphone is to you now), manufacturers will find themselves building a loyal customer base that is not only using their device, but is also interacting with them and providing unparalleled insight into their habits in real time.