Hotwire | Could social networks revolutionise patient engagement across health and pharma? - Hotwire

by Alexa Chaffer, via HealthUnlocked

Could social networks revolutionise patient engagement across health and pharma?

The term patient engagement continues to be a much used ‘buzzword’ or ‘must do’ in the health and pharmaceutical sectors. Yet we infrequently see any evidence of it happening in a meaningful and consistent way. The NHS can be a repeat offender in this regard, reaching out sporadically to a whole local population with the fleeting hope that someone will respond with their views.  Likewise the pharmaceutical industry continues to use traditional media channels, like radio advertising, to take part in research, which can be long, tiresome and expensive.

So what is the answer to better engagement? Why are we falling behind the curve on user engagement and experience, compared how other industries that use technology to improve? The answer lies in understanding the root causes, from the unique risk-aversion inherent in healthcare to a natural reluctance to innovate. The complexity of decision-making is additionally a factor, as is the lack of knowledge of how new technologies could help – which is particularly true within the world of social networks.

As the leading health social network for health, HealthUnlocked has witnessed a noticeable change in the market in the last 12 months. Both healthcare and pharma are increasingly pushing back on this notion and looking to fully understand the opportunities and relevance in social networks. Understandably given that on HealthUnlocked alone there are 40 million people with a health condition coming to the platform every year, all of which are fully active and engaged with their own health. 

Right from the very beginnings of HealthUnlocked, charities and non-profit patient organisations were quick to adopt the power of the social network; seeing and harnessing the value of engaging the very people they were set up to support. Now, the vast majority of our 700 online communities are managed, supported and used by these non-profits for both engagement and health promotion, or as an education tool. These communities have become online spaces for people with health conditions to come to and safely access information from people who really understand what they were going through.

LUPUS UK joined the HealthUnlocked network back in 2011. Since then, they have grown a highly active community of 15,000 people. Paul Howard, projects manager for LUPUS UK says: “Lupus is an uncommon condition which can have a significant impact on a person’s mobility, independence and self-esteem. Reducing the isolation experienced by people with lupus is very important to LUPUS UK. The HealthUnlocked platform has allowed us to form a highly engaged online community which offers information and emotional support to people with lupus.”

A survey of LUPUS UK’s community members found participation had significant positive health outcomes for many of them. 46.4 per cent of members ‘agreed’ or ‘strongly agreed’ that since joining they are “more confident managing their disease on a day to day basis” and 39 per cent of their members ‘agreed’ or ‘strongly agreed’ that since joining they have had “better interactions with their doctor or other health professionals”. In addition to these benefits, LUPUS UK also found it was able to improve its provision of services by regularly engaging with this active community and better understanding their needs.

One of the biggest barriers that the pharmaceutical and healthcare sector have faced in adoption of this technology has been the outdated view that social networks are a PR tool rather than a clinical resource. As more evidence of their success emerges, these attitudes are changing and organisations are increasingly looking at how social media and networks could provide them with a large and relevant digital ready audience and provide an alternative to more traditional methods.

Over the past year, more businesses than ever before from pharmaceutical or research industries have been working with us to realise the value of HealthUnlocked in the quest to seek patients or engage a particular audience. Being able to source and engage patients to a clinical trial 200 per cent faster than using traditional methods, or change the understanding of a drug by collating hundreds of opinions and experiences of usage is a hard argument to fight against.

Despite these compelling arguments, none of these are the single most important reason we should all be looking closer at social networks. So what is? All these technologies naturally put the patient firmly at the very middle of all these processes. Patient centricity is deservedly becoming more important throughout health and pharma, and the future almost certainly seems to point to using technology to engage better with groups of people and making them the very centre of everything we do. The next few years are going to be an exciting time to be a social network in the health space.

Alexa Chaffer

Communications lead at HealthUnlocked

About HealthUnlocked

HealthUnlocked is the world’s largest social network for health. Millions of people come to HealthUnlocked each month to get free peer to peer and expert support from hundreds and health and wellbeing online communities.

Useage of the site has been shown to produce a better engaged cohort of individuals, who have better health outcomes, feel more confident in managing their health, use clinical services less and have more positive reactions with doctors and health professionals.

Key Facts and Figures about HealthUnlocked:

  • Over 600,000 members spread across the globe sharing experiences of living with a condition
  • Over 40 million visitors to the platform every year
  • More than 700 communities for people with long term conditions
  • 70% of HealthUnlocked members want to take part in medical research
  • The HealthUnlocked platform is used as a clinical care planning tool in 75 hospitals in the UK, with plans to role this out further in 2016.
  • Named in The 2016 Deloitte UK Technology Fast 50 2016, one of the UK’s foremost technology award programmes.
  • HealthUnlocked is a part of the NHS Innovation Accelerator (NIA)
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