Healthcare organizations and providers are not exempt from lessons that have been learned by brands and social marketers in other industries. The main lesson is that today’s consumer is more empowered than ever before. Their ability to conduct research online from any number of sources and to compare and share with friends, family or experts makes them a very different breed from yesterday’s healthcare consumer.
Let’s talk about that consumer of the past. When they wanted information or the resolution to a problem, they had to wait however long it took to get an appointment with their doctor. The answers they got were limited to the information the doctor had at that moment. The doctor’s assessment had to be taken at face value and accepted as the right answer. If the patient didn’t like or had doubts about what they were being told, their only course of action was to set up yet another appointment with a separate physician to get a second opinion. And that’s not even getting into how long it took to get an answer back from their health insurer on coverage issues.
While all of these healthcare organizations may have been operating in the most efficient way possible, and with every ethical and professional standard that could be expected, the bottom line was that the consumer was largely at the mercy of the process.
Flash-forward to today, and not only is the consumer no longer at the mercy of the process, they have been empowered with a global, comprehensive knowledge bank, available instantly at their fingertips. They are driving the process. The result is that healthcare organizations must communicate with these empowered consumers from an entirely new perspective. And more than ever before, the consumer wants to conduct this communication over the social channels that are comfortable and familiar to them.
A recent PwC report examined consumer behavior with various kinds of health-related activities on social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Google+. Overall, 27% of those surveyed commented on health experiences or social updates that they saw; 24% posted about health experiences themselves; 16% posted reviews of medications, treatments, doctors or insurers; and 18% traced and/or shared their health symptoms or behavior. Increasingly, consumers are willing to engage in healthcare discussions and services on social networks.
The study further asked how likely these consumers would be to share their health information using social: 47% would share with a doctor; 43% would share with a hospital; 40% would share with a pharmacy; 38% would share with a health insurance company; and 33% would share information with a retail health clinic or alternative healthcare setting. As you would expect, there are variations in trust according to demographics, but consumers are exhibiting a desire to engage with health-oriented brands and services on social. On the younger end, over 80% of respondents, ages 18 to 24, are likely to share health information through social, compared with 45% of respondents ages 45 to 64. The future is clearly in social communication in healthcare.
So what exactly are the new and emerging consumer expectations of healthcare organizations on social? Well, 72% would use social for scheduling doctor appointments. Not only that, 50% would expect to get a response within a few hours. If you don’t make them happy, 41% said social would influence their choice of a specific physician, hospital or medical facility. Health organizations may learn what some brands were very quick to learn: socially empowered consumers are able to gather, unify and react to negative experiences and quickly alter customer-service practices.
Today, healthcare marketers have new and powerful ways to find, reach out and engage their customers and potential customers, especially on social. The most successful of these efforts revolve around one key element … trust.
When the PwC survey asked how likely respondents are to trust health information on social from the following sources, 60% would trust a doctor, 56% a nurse, 55% a hospital, 54% a patient advocacy organization, 48% a retail pharmacy, and 46% patients they already know.
How can a healthcare organization marketer achieve this level of trust? The first step is to make sure you’re interacting with the consumer regularly and directly. Second, use every technological tool at your disposal to establish personalization. Third, reach out to them where they are, be it their smartphones are at retail healthcare establishments.
In the social world, trust comes from an ongoing dialogue and the deliberate fostering and building of real and human relationships. No patient wants to feel like a number.
They’re putting their health in your hands and feel justified in asking merely that you know who they are. Social makes these personal touch points possible in ways you may have not yet imagined. Even at the very least, a simple birthday greeting from their doctor would make any patient feel wanted and valued.
Your consumer is on social and waiting for you. When you make yourself the primary go-to source for their healthcare information, when you set up a system in which the consumer feels like you’re listening and they’re being heard, and when you reinforce your credibility by taking off your marketing hat and communicating in an unbiased, caring fashion, you are investing in the social relationships that will pay profitable, repeated dividends.