Social media in Healthcare – A real opportunity to embrace the future

December 9, 2009


Olivier LAURENT - CEO at Coligane group


Social media has been defined as “A group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, and that allow the creation and exchange of user-generated content”1 The high use of internet for health related activities has given birth to the term Health 2.0 which can be defined in simple terms as the use of the internet and the computers for almost all health related activities. It has become the platform for exchange of information among patients, knowledge upgradation amongst healthcare providers and new marketing area for the pharmaceutical industry. The end users of different kinds of healthcare products can now be contacted directly with the use of social media. The Health 2.0 has opened up new avenues in the field of healthcare which if aptly embraced can benefit the providers and the consumers as well.

Different forms, one goal

There are many different forms of social media. These include internet forums, social blogs, weblogs, wikis, podcasts, online albums, video uploading sites, online rating and bookmarking sites and many more.

All these social media platforms function in different ways and cater to different kinds of people all over the world and vary in popularity. However, they all serve once common purpose: exchange of information.

A survey by iCrossing in 2008 has noted that internet users opted for a variety of online websites and tools to obtain information about healthcare related queries. Some of the major ones included general search engines, healthcare portals, online forums, social networks, blogs and drug advertisements.2

The survey noted that more than 50% of the users opted for general search engines and health portal sites to obtain information related to healthcare needs. The next in the line was social media which included online forums, message boards, social networking sites, blogs, and live chat rooms.2

While it’s helping people to become knowledgeable about field of healthcare, social media is now becoming a fertile ground for the healthcare industries to invest and offer better care and obtain a profitable income at the same time.

Information about the disorders, treatment options and types of medications that are highly effective are widely sought after. This becomes a key area of investment for the pharmaceutical industry wherein it can provide reliable information about the drug on the social media and promote discussion about its benefits. The more people begin to discuss about a drug in the social media, the more popular the drug becomes.

Business through social networks

Social networks have a great potential of becoming the new business tool for the pharmaceutical industry. Some of the general players in the present market of social media include Google, MSN Health (Microsoft), WebMD, and Yahoo! Revolution Health.3 Merck is one such major player which provides free information about the disorders and medications being used to treat them. These companies have invested in building a network of websites that are helping consumers to control their healthcare. At the same time it is helping them to project and promote their product at very minimal costs compared to other forms of advertising. Sponsoring some social groups discussing about some particular disorders such as heart attacks or diabetes while advertising about the products related to these disorders can serve dual purpose-educate while you earn.

Advertising in the social media

Social media platforms offer key spaces for advertising about healthcare products and equipments. These platforms run advertisement banners that are ‘topic smart’ which choose and display advertisements that are closely related to the topics being discussed. Google AdSense for example reviews the searches being made by an individual and delivers specific ads that relate to the search terms being used. Further, it also pays the user for hosting its services on his/her social platform opening up a wider area of coverage for the ads being placed. With people becoming more internet savvy and social media gaining popularity, internet is fast becoming a new place for marketing product lines more successfully.4 Such spaces can be bought to advertise about specific drugs that are used to treat a disorder being discussed at the particular website or forum. These are subtle but effective ways of promoting drugs.

A platform for data aggregation, product review, recruitment and much more

One of the basic criteria for enrolment in majority of the social platforms is recording personal information. This basic step has lead to the formation of a highly valuable data stream. The type of data aggregated includes the ages of people accessing the internet, regions that are accessing at a higher rate, common diseases that are being searched for, the incidence of certain specific disorders, and the economic conditions of the users.

For the product development companies these data can be quite useful. Additionally product reviews, patient expectations, adverse effects, and efficacy profiles are also some of the areas covered by the social media. Thus social media can function as a self appraisal platform for the pharmaceutical industries. Adopting proper internet based tools to collect data and promote the drugs can therefore serve as a highly profitable and economical step for the pharma industry. Data about doctors and their views about specific products can be useful in designing newer marketing methods and forming newer groups of medications. Industries involved in clinical research can pool in information about disease prevalence and also recruit patients for their clinical trials. The list goes on!


In conclusion, social media offers newer avenues for the pharmaceutical industry to improve the health of the population while increasing its revenues at the same time. However, misuse of the social media for flooding the user with product reviews, reliability of the available data, and safety of the patient or user data are some of the concerns that need to be addressed for successful utilization of social media as a platform for promoting the healthcare industry. The legal norms of the local governments also need to be considered while promoting products directly to the consumers. Nevertheless, social media is a golden opportunity that can be successfully embraced with proper knowledge and individualized approach with the help of professional organizations.

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  1. Kaplan Andreas M., Haenlein Michael, (2010 in print, 2009 online), Users of the world, unite! The challenges and opportunities of social media, Business Horizons, Vol. 53, Issue 1.
  2. iCrossing. How America searchs: health and wellness. Jan 2008.
  3. California Healthcare Foundation. ihealth reports. The wisdom of patients: healthcare meets online social media. April 2008
  4. Nash MG, Gremillion C. Globalization impacts the healthcare organization of the 21st century. Demanding new ways to market product lines successfully. Nurs Adm Q. 2004 Apr-Jun; 28(2):86-91.

One Response to “Social media in Healthcare – A real opportunity to embrace the future”

  1. Perry L Austin said

    I am an ambassador for a company called Hopeworld Healthcare and we have a special relationship to bring healthcare benefits to people without having to qualify! I am interested to start a discussion on this topic as well as show organizations that if they embrace this concept we can generate revenue to bless others that are in need!

    Feel free to respond

    Thank You

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