Patients choose hospitals based on social media

With one-third of consumers using social media for seeking or sharing medical information, 41 percent say tools like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and online forums influence their choice of a specific hospital, medical facility or doctor, according to Tuesday's report from consulting firm PwC.

In a survey of more than a thousand consumers, more than two-fifths of individuals said social media did affect their choice of a provider or organization. Forty-five percent said it would affect their decision to get a second opinion; 34 percent said it would influence their decision about taking a certain medication and 32 percent said it would affect their choice of a health insurance plan.

The PwC report follows a study last summer by hospital market research firm YouGov Healthcare, which found that 57 percent of consumers said a hospital's social media connections would strongly affect their decision to receive treatment at that facility.

Following the release of the study, YouGov Healthcare Managing Director Jane Donohue told FierceHealthcare, "We were surprised that consumers were going to review sites and blogs as often as they are going to the official hospital sites." She added, "Clearly, any successful social media strategy is going to have to monitor and engage those [review site] conversations because you don't control them. With your own content on Facebook and Twitter, you have a lot of control, but you certainly need to be engaged in those conversations."

However, as one reader noted on the story, "This is the kind of research that ends up misleading healthcare managers to go down a strategic path to nowhere. ... Social media is a valuable and growing tool for communication, but it is nowhere near the usage deciding factor."

Even if the studies overestimate social media's impact on consumer behavior, other experts say it goes beyond marketing.

"Savvy adopters are viewing social media as a business strategy, not just a marketing tool," Kelly Barnes, US Health Industries leader of PwC, said in a company announcement.

Farris Timimi, medical director for the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media, said social media in healthcare is a "moral obligation," at the ninth annual World Health Care Congress in in National Harbor, Md., on Monday, FierceHealthIT reported.

"Our patients are there. Our moral obligation is to meet them where they're at and give them the information they need so they can seek recovery," Timimi said. "This is not marketing; this is the right thing to do."

For more information:
- check out the PwC report
- here's the accompanying announcement