Caregiver social media sites proliferate, but hospital use lags

Caregivers of elderly and disabled patients are increasing their use of social media, recent data indicates, but few hospitals are taking advantage of this fact.

According to a Pew Internet Project survey published in February, adults aged 50 to 64--an age category that corresponds to that of many caregivers--more than quadrupled their use of social media between 2008 and 2012. Caregivers are also more likely than non-caregivers to consult friends online for health information, Susan Fox, associate director of the Pew Internet Project, told the New York Times

A comScore survey also found a big increase in social media use among boomer caregivers. Ninety-one percent used Facebook, and 21% used Twitter, according to an AdAge post.

Social media such as Facebook and Twitter are not the ideal places to share information about the health conditions of elderly patients. But there are a growing number of networking sites that cater to caregivers, including LotsaHelpingHands and a U.K. site called How Are You? The latter connects patients with providers, families and friends.

In addition, the Times notes, there are a couple of new caregiver sites, Saturing and CareZone. And a startup called Wellaho, which tested its system with three San Diego hospitals last fall, brings together all parts of a patient's support system, just as How Are You? does.

Some hospitals have taken notice of this trend. For example, Huntington Hospital in Pasadena, Calif., provides an "interactive group program" to help caregivers exchange ideas about how to better care for their relatives, according to the hospital's website.

But there is little evidence that hospitals are referring patients to the new social media sites.

While many hospitals use social media, these efforts have been mostly confined to marketing. A recent CSC report concluded that U.S. hospitals lag their counterparts in other countries in utilizing social media for other purposes, according to an InformationWeek article.

To learn more:
- read the New York Times article
- see the Pew Internet Project survey results
- check out the AdAge post on the ComScore survey
- read a blog post about Wellaho
- visit the Huntington Hospital site
- read an InformationWeek Healthcare story on the CSC report

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