Part 2 of 5 Consumers of all ages are becoming increasingly proactive online when it comes to getting answers about their health. This includes choosing doctors, treatments and healthcare facilities. A study by the Pew Internet Project found that 75-80% of internet users have looked online for health information, and that the internet is ranked second only to physicians when it comes to gathering trustworthy information about health-related topics (Fox 2008).

An even more recent study shows that 40% of hospital or urgent-care center patients report that social media influenced their healthcare choices, with the percentage jumping to over 50% in the 25-34 age bracket (Marketing Charts 2009).

A Nielsen study found that 39% of patients already use an online support group to discuss medications or treatments, and that “the anonymity of the internet affords a comfort level that encourages individuals to share details about their symptoms, treatment history, experiences with their doctors, the efficacy and side effects of medication, the impact of their condition on their own lives and more.” (Davies 2008)

However, depending on the nature and seriousness of various conditions, consumers may not wish to publicly identify with the brand on social networks such as Twitter or Facebook. To counteract stigma, some healthcare brands, such as GlaxoSmithKline’s weight loss product, Alli, have overcome stigma by creating their own community where consumers congregate, share personal stories and milestones.

Hospitals can facilitate consumer engagement by offering services and interactivity through their Web sites. A good example is Community Memorial Hospital in Menomonee Fall, WI. Their home page offerings include an “Ask Our Nurse” service, a baby gallery, a way to send patients e-cards, and a direct link to CarePages.

Some hospitals now post emergency room wait times online as a way to manage patients’ expectations for non life-threatening situations. Such is the case at Liking Memorial Hospital in Newark as reported in April, 2010. According to the chief executive officer of the hospital this effort not only helps the hospital be more transparent, “making this information available was another step in making the community see how we’re doing and how we’re taking care of them as a hospital system.” (Hoholik 2010)

Overall, creating a strong healthcare brand presence online can be challenging. A successful online initiative should integrate carefully with the overall brand strategy and offer new ways of listening, interacting and engaging with consumers. Gaining attention in the crowded electronic field takes special creativity in order to stand out.

Sources: Fox, Susannah. “The Engaged E-patient Population.” 26 Aug. 2008. Berthiaume , Dan. 30 Sept. 2009.

Davies, Melissa. “Listening to Consumers in a Highly Regulated Environment: How Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Can Leverage Consumer-Generated Media.” Nielsen Online August 2008.

Hoholik, Suzanne. “Hosptial in Newark posts ER wait time on Web site.” The Columbus Dispatch 3 April 2010.