Social Media In The Health Field

Since we were talking about research a bit, I wanted to backfill a bit. I highlighted how to best use social media, but we forgot to address the question of why we should use social media. Let’s rectify that today. And we’ll use one of my absolute favorite datasets from the folks at the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

The first thing to highlight is this year’s version of the annual survey on social media users, published on February 14th, 2013. The survey broke down demographics of social network use. The most telling chart they’ve got is this one:

landscape of social media users

Beyond that very focused look, the information about percentages of people that actually use social media is what is most interesting to me when presented as a case why government agencies should be online and interacting. Too often, government folks resist delving into social media because of an out-dated belief that minorities and traditionally under-represented demographic groups wouldn’t be able to access it. Yep, out-dated. Check this chart out and tell me where that belief stands today:

percent of users

Every “traditionally under-represented” minority group is over-represented in the survey. They use it more than those older, white guys. You know the ones, the older, white guys who traditionally make decisions about what format should be used to distribute information.

Now for those of us in the health field, the rationale for getting into social media is even more compelling. These next charts are taken from the Pew folks’ Health Online 2013 report. The goal of that survey was really to find out the behavior of what they call online diagnosers. These folks have used information they’ve found online as a critical part of how they interact with the their doctor, in many cases even using the internet to prompt them to go see a doctor:

ED72A0421D8745288A3AB5214258790B

Additionally, they found that:

Eight percent of internet users say they have, in the past 12 months, posted a health-related question online or shared their own personal health experience online in any way.

Even more impressively:

[O]ne in four adults (24%) says that they turned to others who have the same health condition during their last bout with illness, essentially the same finding as in our 2010 survey. One in four internet users (26%) have read or watched someone else’s experience about health or medical issues in the last 12 months. And 16% of internet users have gone online to find others who might share the same health concerns in the last year.

The final report I want to highlight is on mobile health. They key part of this study are these following statements:

Fully 85% of U.S. adults own a cell phone.

One in three cell phone owners (31%) have used their phone to look for health information. In a comparable, national survey conducted two years ago, 17% of cell phone owners had used their phones to look for health advice.

While this has HUGE implications for those of us who do emergency health messaging, it has even bigger implications for EVERYONE who does health messaging and information for this reason (taken from last year’s Digital Differences report):

The rise of mobile is changing the story. Groups that have traditionally been on the other side of the digital divide in basic internet access are using wireless connections to go online. Among smartphone owners, young adults, minorities, those with no college experience, and those with lower household income levels are more likely than other groups to say that their phone is their main source of internet access.

Like I said last week, the research supporting what I, and lots of other online geeks, have been saying for years is starting to come around. The research is there, we just have to find it.