When it comes to medical advice, “I do as much as I can to get it on their phones, because that is what they live and die for,” says Dr. Natasha Burgert, pediatrician from Kansas City, Missouri. Dr. Burgert is one of a growing number of physicians and medical centers relying on social media technologies to communicate with a sometimes-elusive group of patients—teenagers.
Medical professionals throughout the country are replacing pamphlets and office hours with blogs, social streams, QR codes and mobile outreach, as reported in a recent New York Times feature. And while the use of social raises some important questions, confidentiality and doctor-patient boundaries, for example, it’s a logical approach to healthcare for the demographic. Social media outreach provides a quick and less-embarrassing approach to keeping teenagers healthy, especially as pediatric visits lessen.
But teenagers aren’t the only patients being marketed to in the social space. Recent figures show that the greatest growth sector for social media usage is among seniors, with the number of social media-users in the 65+ demo increasing by nearly 50 percent in the last two years. In fact, nearly 3-in-4 online seniors use social media at least once per month, as do over 80 percent of those between the ages of 55 and 64.
Healthcare professionals have begun to take note. Major medical centers and organizations employ blogs, as well as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube streams aimed directly at older patients. For example, the University of California San Francisco’s Department of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging blog regularly produces content aimed at individuals aged 50 and over. Like teenagers, it’s often difficult to get this demographic into the office for proactive screening procedures, but the department’s social outreach outlines the risks and benefits of these imaging exams in a way that seniors can access and understand with ease.
Privacy concerns and confidentially issues may have acted as deterrents for medical organizations entering the social space in the past, but today, ignoring those channels significantly decreases access to a substantial pool of patients. As social marketing continues to grow, both the teenage and senior sectors will look to social for medical advice, information and decision-making. Will you be there to answer?