Healthcare and Social Media, Hand in Hand? Not always.

As the reign of social media grows every day and extends into previously uncharted territories, more and more people are becoming solely reliant on such tools for many aspects of their lives. For example, even healthcare has begun branching out into the hip social media arena – Obama hosts virtual town halls regarding his healthcare plans and health information websites are popping up all over the place.

According to this article, social media is “revolutionizing your doctor visits.” I won’t argue that websites haven’t made our lives easier in terms of finding out if you have symptoms of H1N1 or researching which specialized hospitals are best for what. However, there is still a long way to go until healthcare becomes “revolutionized” vis-a-vis social media. It seems that a significant number of people are expecting to find great doctors in the same manner we find nomnom-licious restaurants on Yelp. This isn’t going to happen anytime soon. Why? While the crowd who scours the internet looking for the best underground cafes and undiscovered treasures certainly can contribute to the social media-lizing of healthcare, there is a significant chunk of people, people who are the majority players in the healthcare community, who don’t.

Let’s take a look at the Yelp community. Whenever I want to find reviews about a restaurant or hair salon, my first step is to whip open a new browser tab and see fellow Yelpers’ verdicts. Yelp has a fairly, and by fairly I mean very, large amount of traffic – 25 million unique visitors in a month. Looking at the demographic info, the majority of users are within the 18 – 49 age range. I know that there are many non-members using Yelp, too, but given that they’re non-members, they’re also not contributing in terms of reviews and ratings.

Now, let’s look at the healthcare industry. If we’re going to have a similar community for healthcare, reviewers and raters are crucial for success and efficiency. I’m not saying that young people don’t get sick. However, there will be certain areas of medicine that won’t benefit anytime soon. Some fields will have a lot of traffic – dentists, family physicians, pediatricians, cosmetic surgeons and OB GYNs are good bets. These areas have a significant number of patients who are within the online-review-utilizing-and-contributing age bracket. As for cardiologists, rheumatologists, and geriatricians? Detailed information and reviews will be sparse. Given that physicians devote about 30 – 35% of patient care time to those over 65, it is clear that the elderly still constitute a sizable chunk of the healthcare community. We’ll be missing their input on physicians and doctors for a long while.

However, if you think about, those of us who are most likely to utilize the intarwebz and social sites to research our doctors are more likely to look in the common fields I mentioned above. I know that if I move to a new city, a dentist and optometrist would be first on my list. Thankfully, tons of others in a similar age range will have tested and tried out a significant number of these doctors. All in all, I wouldn’t call this a healthcare revolution – but it is a start.

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