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August 18th, 2011 by Mythreyi Krishnan under Commentary

Healthcare sector jumping on the social media bandwagon

“If you don’t have a social presence, you will be left behind”. This seems to be the magic mantra in 2011 where even companies that did not traditionally engage with consumers online are doing so with gusto. For instance, the healthcare industry  has started to use social media to both engage and inform. They seem to be on the right path as studies reveal that a growing number of consumers look to online sources for information and suggestions in regards to health related services and products. In fact, 57 percent of consumers thought that social media connections would have a strong impact on their likelihood to seek treatment at the hospital. Other key findings reveal that:

- 25% of consumers said that they are likely to connect with hospitals via social media in the future.

- Those most likely to connect with hospitals are women between the ages 36-64.

- Eighty-one percent of consumers believe that if a hospital has a strong social media presence, they are likely to be more “cutting edge.”

This is not limited to western countries alone as hospitals in developing nations such as India are proactively reaching out to the public via social media. For instance, Fortis Hospital , the largest healthcare chain in India with a global presence including in Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore has over 1200 followers on twitter. They share information on new techniques, patient success stories and also engage their followers in campaigns such as the movement to kill smoking.

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Other tracks in healthcare such as the pharmaceutical industry are also treading on social media turf for marketing purposes. Pharma companies use channels like Youtube, facebook, twitter as well as forums. However, for pharma companies,it gets a little tricky because of strict laws governing how drugs can be advertised in public space.

Some brands have gotten around this by bypassing the hard sell, instead creating online platforms for patients such as support communities for cancer survivors, people living with cystic fibroris and children with diabities. One of these is a cystic fibrosis support community called CF Voice. It is sponsored by Novartis, which markets a range of drugs and medicines. The website allows patients and their parents to learn more about treatment options, track their treatments online and connect with others going through the same journey.

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They’ve even produced films about children who have overcome their limitations to become independent and healthy.

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However, healthcare chains and pharma companies are required to follow strict guidelines when marketing their products. In 2010, the FDA(Food and Drug administration) in America sent a warning letter to a company based out of Utah which was selling drugs that could supposedly prevent catching the H1N1 virus. As these drugs were not approved by the authorities, marketing them was strictly disallowed. Other prominent brands such as Johnson & Johnson and GlaxoSmithKline were also warned for “misleading” marketing messages on social media.

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