Social media sites help patients make healthcare decisions

By Molly Merrill
10:21 AM
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One in five Americans use social media websites as a source of healthcare information, according to National Research Corp.'s Ticker survey, which bills itself as the largest, most up-to-date poll on consumer healthcare opinions and behaviors.

The survey found that 94 percent of respondents have used Facebook to gather information on their healthcare, 32 percent used YouTube, 18 percent used Twitter and MySpace and 2 percent used FourSquare, a location-based website.

Key findings of the NRC survey:

  • When asked about social media's influence, one in four respondents said it was "very likely" or "likely" to impact their future healthcare decisions.
  • When asked for their level of trust in social media, 32 percent said "very high" or "high," and only 7.5 percent said "very low."
  • Respondents still backed hospital websites are the premiere source of online healthcare information with one in two preferring heath provider websites to any source. Fourteen percent preferred an integrated approach of hospital websites and social media combined. Three percent preferred only social media.

[See also: Pew Survey: Health information third most popular online pursuit.]

A nine-year study of Type II diabetic patients and weight loss surgery found that social media was used as a tool to spread information about patients' experiences with bariatric surgery and its benefits. Business intelligence company Wool.labs used its technology WebDig to track every conversation accessible on the Internet and determined the trends among diabetes patients and healthcare providers as related to options to help manage diabetes including bariatric surgery.

[See also: Online access a "trump card" for chronic disease patients.]

The study found diabetes patients who had tried bariatric surgery used social media outlets to advocate for the procedure and show how it had positively impacted their Type II diabetes. "We believe that the patient wave of support in social media has helped push diabetes surgery into mainstream acceptance faster," said Michele Bennett, chief operating officer of Wool.labs.

Current trends show that patient conversation was ultimately a key contributor to physician acceptance of weight loss surgery as a tool to control diabetes.

"In this instance, we believe patients are leading the way and it will be interesting to see how far physicians and the industry will take it from here," said Scott Reese, chief executive officer of Wool.labs. "Social media provides a unique window into patient and physician experiences. We can also see how those perceptions impact the patients relationship with the healthcare community."