Study Shows Patient Influencers Turn To Social Media Over HCPs

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Online influencers are bypassing healthcare providers when searching for medical information. How can HCPs reach patients directly?

The rise of social media has transformed how patients seek medical guidance. Today, many turn to patient influencers — individuals who post about health topics on social media and have a significant number of followers. But where do influencers themselves get their information?

A new survey from WEGO Health finds that influencers rarely rely on healthcare providers’ or pharma companies’ websites, instead preferring patient social media groups, health reference sites, and patient advocacy organizations. The study shows that HCPs will need to enhance their digital marketing efforts to reach influencers — or, better yet, connect with patients directly.

Patient Influencers Rely on Social Media for Health Information

WEGO surveyed 412 patient influencers across the United States, each of whom has a substantial presence on Facebook, Twitter, and/or Instagram. The influencers — many of whom are patients themselves — focus on particular conditions such as chronic pain, autoimmune disease, anxiety, fibromyalgia, cancer, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, and depression.

The study found that patient groups on social media are the leading source of information for influencers, with 72% using them. Health reference websites like WebMD and the Mayo Clinic were also popular (65%), as were patient advocacy organizations like the American Cancer Society and the National MS Society (64%). Only 33% of influencers turned to healthcare providers, and a mere 3% used pharma websites.

Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are the most popular social media channels among influencers, with lesser usage of Pinterest, YouTube, and Snapchat. Social media communities play at least a “somewhat important” role in health decisions for 94% of influencers. While 92% of influencers follow an advocacy organization on social media, only 48% follow a healthcare provider.

Implications for Healthcare Providers

The good news for HCPs is that their websites are among the most trusted by patient influencers, ranking second only to heath reference sites. Yet the survey demonstrates that HCPs are not doing enough to reach online influencers. By improving their digital marketing strategies, providers can better connect with users and help spread accurate healthcare information.

Social media has become a major venue for digital marketing. Facebook, despite recent controversies, remains a key platform. Instagram and Twitter are continuing to grow as well. The secret for success on these platforms is authenticity. By focusing on engaging, personal stories, healthcare providers can build trust with patients. Video content is one of the most effective ways to do so. Seeing providers explain their philosophy of care and patients narrate their positive experiences will help build a connection with viewers.

Social media listening is another essential tool. Providers should closely monitor social media channels to see what patients are most interested in. When questions and concerns come up repeatedly, HCPs can use social media to preemptively answer them. If anyone posts a complaint, providers should address it promptly and publicly to show they are committed to patient satisfaction.

Of course, social media is just one component of a comprehensive digital marketing strategy. An engaging and attractive website, search engine marketing, review management, and local directory listings will all help medical practices reach new patients. The advent of social media influencers has changed how patients seek information, but communicating directly with patients is still the most effective way to build trust and connection.

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