Is there anything hotter than social media? And in fad-driven health care land, is it not inevitable that we will hear more and more about how necessary social media involvement is for health care companies and what wonderful things it will do? A new PriceWaterhouseCooper report does nothing to dampen the fever. (PWC Report) About half of all American adults use some form of social media and about a third of them regularly use social media for health-related issues, according to PWC’s survey of over 1000 US adults. Over 40% of consumers used social media to access reviews of a provider or treatment; 30% have supported some health related charity or cause, 25% have posted about a health related experience and 20% have joined a health forum or community. As might be expected, information posted by providers is more trusted, with 61% of respondents finding it credible and 40% being willing to share data with providers. For drug companies, on the other hand, only 37% are trusting of information they post and only 28% are willing to share information with them.
As also might be expected, younger consumers use and trust social media more than older ones. Over 80% of people age 18-24 would share health information via social media and 90% would use social media for health related concerns. For people 45-64, the numbers drop to 45% who would share data and 56% who would use social media for health matters. Older but wiser? To the extent that social media creates an opportunity for interaction, it also creates new expectations for providers and vendors, as consumers want a fast reply to any inquiries or requests. While many respondents indicate that social media information can influence their choice of a provider or treatment, that needs to be demonstrated in a more rigorous way. And though many health care companies are using social media, and it would probably be foolish to ignore it, there is simply no credible evidence that it helps consumers either achieve better health outcomes or that it aids in reducing spending; which are the two critical goals for US health care.