Health Professionals in Social Media Study

We’ve done a fair bit of research for clients in the healthcare sector and one of the first questions asked by clients is “does anyone in healthcare actually use social media?” When we ask them if they use it at all, they often respond that they do themselves. It’s an odd disconnect. So we decided to look back at our data plus do some additional digging. Turns out, a lot of healthcare professionals are engaged. And not just for entertainment. Increasingly, they are using social media to connect professionally, to learn and share insights about their work (not patients.) For makers of medical equipment, pharmaceutical companies and any other supplier; this is a marketing and learning opportunity. Take note. This is just a summary of our research by the way. This research combines data from Canada, the United States and United Kingdom.

Which Profession is Engaged The Most?
The chart below provides a ranking of engagement by the professions that we found to be the most active (methodology at end of post.) By “engaged” we mean professions that identify themselves or through the specific social media channels they use. It means being active at least twice a month. What was interesting? Paramedics top the list, followed by lab techs and nurses…but med students are increasingly engaged and now on a par with nurses. Technicians are classed as x-ray, CAT-scan and similar. That might suggest that the next group of doctors and specialists coming up are going to be very engaged with these technologies. That means business opportunities. It also means educational opportunities and a suggestion that as these professions learn from each other, best practices could be improved….maybe with better outcomes for patients? That would take some more research, but we suggest it may be possible.

What Social Media Channels Do Healthcare Professionals Use?
It’s one thing to know they’re engaged. It’s another to know what tools they are using and that is telling in itself. It’s not Facebook either. The two most popular channels are forums and niche social networks (these niche SN’s are like Facebook, but are focused on one topic or industry sector, unlike Facebook which is open to anyone.) It is interesting that forums remain a key channel for engagement, as forums are older forms of social media that have been around since the late 1980’s with the old bulletin boards…and haven’t really evolved much since the late 1990’s. Microblogs such as Twitter or Identi.ca are used, but they tend to be more about general topics or sharing links toi relevant content, not detailed discussions about their profession; likely due to the limitation of 140 characters….which is not conducive to long medical terms by any stretch.

What About Patient Privacy?
Patient confidentiality in social media is always a hot topic and there have been a few people fired for revealing confidential patient information. From what we’ve been able to determine however, patient names are never mentioned and privacy is a concern – seems people in healthcare got that message loud and clear.

So Why Does This Matter?
As we suggested at the start of this blog post; sharing insights and experiences could play a role in improving patient care and treatments, although that would need a more empirical analysis. But it shows that people in the healthcare sector are engaged in social media and that they’re engaging on issues relating to their profession and that means opportunities for businesses to engage and for the healthcare education sector to learn and improve their offerings to the profession.

Methodology Notes
All information that we collect online is from public sources. We do not, ever, collect or analyse private information. Ever. We collect these data using our proprietary web crawler and some third party tools. The data is then analysed using our proprietary text analytics software that assesses such information as age groupings, education levels and geographic areas – again, all public. We also conduct manual verification and use statistical modelling to prepare our final results. In this instance the data was collected from the USA, Canada and UK. Sample size was 3,500 individual public accounts from each of the top professions. We determined the professions by analysis across all popular and less-known (but public) social media channels in the three countries. We collected and examined 35,000 “tweets” and Identi.ca postings from January 2010 to end of December 2012. The same date considerations were given for other channels. Data that was then cleaned for verification and analysis was assigned a weighting for size of profession and per capita populations in each country. Our ranking methodology is proprietary; the higher the number the more “engaged” or used.

More Data Please?
We’re a business. We have salaries to pay and costs to cover, including the bandwidth to collect the data, the storage space for that data and the processing costs. So we release what we can publicly and if an organisation wants further insights, we would be happy to provide a quotation to deliver that intelligence.  We can customise the data as you would like as well. See our contact page for details on how to get in touch.