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42% of Adults Want Their Doctor/Patient Relationship to Extend to Social Media

by | 4 minute read

A new survey from the American Osteopathic Association finds more than half of millennials (54%) and more than four out of 10 (42%) adults are or would like to be friends with or follow their healthcare providers on social media. The online survey was conducted by The Harris Poll in April 2018 on behalf of the AOA.

The survey also found nearly two thirds of millennials (65%) and 43% of all adults feel it is appropriate to contact their physician(s) about a health issue through social media either by posting on their page or direct messaging them. Doctors, however, are still navigating how to manage the patient relationship on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media platforms that are traditionally designed for sharing content that is not private or sensitive.

Health professionals are broadly prohibited from communication over social media if any information shared could be used to identify a patient. Over the past few years, the Department of Health and Human Services has instituted numerous policies and standards to guide practitioners who use social media.

Still, some physicians find social media to be an effective tool for sharing important medical information.

"People—and young people in particular—don't go to the doctor as often as they should, but they are interested in improving their health and wellness," says Mikhail Varshavski, DO, an osteopathic family physician in New York City who is the most "followed" doctor on social media. "If I can inspire a positive lifestyle change in someone through YouTube, then I've been an effective physician."

Better known as 'Doctor Mike,' Dr. Varshavski reaches millions weekly through his popular YouTube channel, as well as a Twitter, Instagram and Facebook accounts. He believes that social media is breaking down communication barriers that previously existed in health care, and driving the wellness conversation around important topics including burnout, addiction, nutrition and mental health.

Dr. Varshavski's approach aligns with the third survey finding: Nearly one-third of Americans (32%) have taken an action related to their health (e.g., changed diet, exercise or medication, taken supplements or tried an alternative treatment such as acupuncture), as a result of information they read on social media. Moreover, 15% of parents of kids under 18 have self-diagnosed a health concern as a result of information they read on social media.

Potential doctor switchers aren't just using their phones to get on social media. According to AudienceSCAN, these consumers are 61% more likely than other adults to have used their mobile devices to search for nearby retailers in the last six months. So, doctors should make sure that their location can be easily found via search. Keep it up to date because 20.2% of these searchers won't go past the first page of results.

While health information sourced from social media has been shown to help patients make better informed decisions, people must be certain they are seeking out credible sources and limiting consumption if it's causing anxiety, cautions Dr. Caudle. Research has found "health anxious" individuals may not benefit from increased access to online health information, forums and 'Dr. Google,' which can generate anxiety and may even influence a patient's perceptions of their symptoms.

Physicians who are concerned about losing patients can target potential doctor switchers with more timely communication.

So, how can doctors reach out to potential doctor switchers to let them know they have active social media profiles and/or what online health sources are legit? When this group is searching for health/medical information source, 13.3% of them turn to the TV, according to AudienceSCAN. In the past year, 65.2% of them took action after seeing a TV ad. Within the last year, 61.1% of them also responded to ads and coupons they received in the mail.

According to Pew Research, 69% of the U.S. public uses some type of social media. Among 18–29 year-olds, that number is 88 percent. Forty percent of people ages 18–24 do not see a medical professional annually.

AudienceSCAN reports that 21.4% of potential doctor switchers are between the ages of 25 and 34. About 85.4% of them are members of Facebook, 63.5% use YouTube, 45.8% have Instagram profiles and 39.3% are active on Twitter.

AudienceSCAN data is available for your applications and dashboards through the SalesFuel API. Media companies and agencies can access AudienceSCAN data through the AudienceSCAN Reports in AdMall.

Rachel Cagle

Rachel Cagle

Rachel is a Research Analyst, specializing in audience intelligence, at SalesFuel. She also helps to maintain the major accounts and co-op intelligence databases. As the holder of a Bachelors degree in English from The Ohio State University, Rachel helps the rest of the SalesFuel team with their writing needs.