The Role of Social Media & Thought Leadership in the Shifting Healthcare Industry

Learn how to engage with healthcare consumers and clients via social and join the conversation.

May 16, 2016

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“The greatest threats in healthcare are not competitive. They are consumer driven.”

—John Crowley, VP of Sales Operations, Cardinal Health

In the past decade, the healthcare industry has seen more disruption to the classic sales cycle than almost any other. Quantified health, up-to-the-minute fitness tracking, personalized medicine, and customized care have changed the way we talk about healthcare—and more than ever, consumers are driving sales in the industry.

The Current State of Social Media in Healthcare

In an age where there’s an app for everything, it was only a matter of time before on demand diagnostic apps like Pager, major social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, online forums, and interactive communities moved into the healthcare industry. Medical information has been at consumers’ fingertips since WebMD first launched its symptom diagnosis page 20 years ago in 1996. The proliferation of access—and expectation—to that healthcare data is only increasing.

Medical apps track our sleep, heart rate, step count, calories, stress, and blood pressure—but more importantly they share this data with doctors and social media circles. Mashable reports that every day, people are having sensitive healthcare discussions on social media, and important diagnostic decisions are being made by leaders in this field based on this engagement.

The Social Shift in Power

This fundamental shift from private, closely held medical information moving from the doctor to the patient is being replaced by open discussions about health—and more importantly treatment options and recommendations—via social media.

Cardinal Health VP of Sales, John Crowley shares that “the power has shifted away from the physician and toward the health system and payer. These institutions and their buying committees are online, social and researching your products."

Healthcare’s Social Media Early Adopters

In 2012, roughly 1 in 5 people had at least one health app on their phones. In 2016 that number is closer to 60%, but nearly 90% of 18-24 year olds (typical early adopters), report that they would “trust medical information shared by others on their social media networks.” These same 18-24 year olds are more than twice as likely than 45-54 year olds to engage in healthcare discussions via social media.

Crowley sums up what this mass migration to social media means for sales teams that are slow to adapt:

“Patients today are digitally driven, socially connected and mobile. In order to stay relevant, healthcare companies must evolve to connect with patients and caregivers where they want to meet—online, socially and in real time. Companies that figure out how to do this or facilitate it for other healthcare companies will win in the technology age.”

So, if consumers clearly expect healthcare companies and providers to engage with them, why are so many healthcare sales reps ignoring the benefits of social?

The Challenges of Social Media Adoption in Healthcare

The biggest obstacle to implementing social media engagement among healthcare sales reps is the perceived lack of adoption—not by consumers, but by doctors. A recent poll from MedTech Media shows that only 31% of healthcare professionals use social media for professional use (like networking), and while this could certainly be higher, the number of healthcare professionals using social media is on the rise.

Today more than 99.4% of hospitals in the US have an active social media account. Over half (50.4%) have accounts on at least four different sites. That’s a dramatic spike in engagement, up from just 26% of hospitals with social media accounts in 2012. So if consumers and healthcare professionals are using social, what’s stopping healthcare sales teams?

One study from the Journal of Medical Internet Research says it best:

“This dramatic increase in social media use may show the increasing value of social media to hospitals to potentially improve market share, engage with patients, increase profitability, or advance their missions in health and healthcare.”

Social Media: Healthcare’s Exciting New Frontier

Increased market share, engagement, and profitability are all right there at your fingertips. Crowley however warns that while the sales benefits of social media are clear, “the modern healthcare sales professional must evolve to use social media as a tool for networking, self-improvement and thought leadership. Note I didn’t say ‘selling.’ Social is a tool for engaging and curating—never selling in healthcare.”

Consumers are starved for valuable, shareable health-related content and healthcare professionals are looking for ways to become thought leaders in their field. There’s never been a better time to become an influencer in the healthcare industry. Embrace social media as a healthcare sales professional and harness the exponential growth of this rapidly changing field.

Download The Sales Manager's Guide to Driving Social Media Adoption and Revenue and learn how to be the one fueling the online conversation

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