News Article

Engaging Patients through Social Media

Wed, 09/09/2015 - 14:58

Despite struggling to penetrate the population segment that most utilizes the healthcare service patients over 65 years of age, and those with multiple chronic conditions, the social media channels are rising. Furthermore, digital activities are currently highest in areas with the least healthcare impact. Yet, another challenge lies in the diversity on networks which provide different user experiences, and are subject to rapid shifts in use.

The rise of digital healthcare activity is well recognized, even if the impact on healthcare is yet to be fully understood. Examples of metrics that reflect the scope and scale of the new digital landscape include that physicians spend twice as much time making clinical decisions using online resources than print. Also that doctors spend three hours per week watching online videos for professional purposes and cite Medscape and YouTube followed by pharmaceutical company websites as the most important visual sources.

The increasing use of smartphones and tablets has encouraged an even greater demand for mobile health information, enabling patients to access and contribute anywhere. Studies suggest that more than 50% of smartphone owners have looked up health information on their phone and roughly one-third of patients used tablets or mobile devices on a daily basis for research and/ or to book appointments. The key social media channels that have been considered for this report are Wikipedia, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

Metrics that track social media reach, relevance, and relationship can provide the basis for assessing a company’s engagement with patients over time. Such metrics show that, among the top 50 pharmaceutical companies, half do not engage with consumers or patients through social media on healthcare-related topics. Companies with the highest levels of patient engagement are smaller companies with narrower therapeutic focus or consumer health companies. Pharmaceutical companies have been using social media for several years, though to a lesser extent than companies in other industries where regulatory oversight does not provide any constraints.

Within the healthcare environment, there are three basic types of social media use. The first is gathering information regarding attitudes. A second use is for broadcasting messages and content, and thirdly, engaging people and organizations on healthcare-related topics leading to a public conversation that can be observed by anyone.


In assessing the current use of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube by pharmaceutical companies, three elements of social media engagement have been defined and an index developed based on the IMS Health Nexxus Social Media Solutions.

  1. Reach is a measure of the absolute number of listeners and the index is based on the number of people reached by each channel through likes, shares, and retweets. A company can have the most interesting and engaging content but without reach they will not be heard.
  2. Relevance measures whether people found posts or content relevant and/or useful, and the index is based on the extent to which content is being shared and forwarded across social networks. Relevance increases reach and is an indicator that a social media platform is growing.
  3. Relationship is a measure of interaction - the back and forth of conversation - and a measure of company and consumer or patient integration. The relationship index measures the level of interaction between a company and those who post, reply, or otherwise interact with the company’s postings.


The IMS Health Social Media Engagement Index shows a variety of specialized, consumer health focused, and large companies within the top ten rankings. Mid-sized companies can compete on an engagement level with large pharmaceuticals and often utilize more potential from social media channels due to greater flexibility and smaller target audiences. There is a large difference between the top performer, and companies in the lower rankings, which may reflect the lack of maturity in social media use by companies, with only a small number having made this a key focus to date.