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Determining the Value of a Message by its Messenger

September 27, 2012
12:20 pm

We’re still learning exactly how to maximize the value of social media channels in communicating important health information to patients and consumers.  A number of private healthcare providers and companies, like the Mayo Clinic and Eli Lilly, have been in the forefront in using tools like Twitter and blogs to raise awareness of new healthcare trends and discoveries.

A study from Penn State University is helping healthcare providers better understand how social media users distinguish valuable information from data they choose to disregard.  According to the study, Twitter users are more likely to trust healthcare information when it’s being tweeted by a physician with a sizeable number of Twitter followers.  That only holds true, though, when the physician is tweeting original information.   When the doctor instead retweets information from other sources, then they physician’s credibility drops in the eyes of his or her followers.

This study can be immensely valuable in helping healthcare professionals and organizations become more effective in disseminating information to the patient community, particularly in an age in which social media usage continues to grow in popularity.

At the Healthcare Leadership Council, we have commissioned research in the past on how to best deliver health messages to the public.  Before the Medicare Part D program was launched, we worked with a research firm to conduct simulation exercises to better understand which information delivery system would achieve greater penetration with the beneficiary public.  We found that mass mailings and national television advertising had a limited utility when communicating prescription drug information, but local radio shows with healthcare experts and live community meetings with physicians and policy experts carried a great deal of credibility and impact.

The Penn State study indicates that what we learned in the early days of Medicare prescription drug coverage holds true today with social media platforms.  People want and trust information from an expert, reliable source delivered in a personalized manner.  Twitter, as a social media tool, allows individuals to feel connected to health experts.

These are important lessons to learn, particularly when the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act goes into full effect and people will need information about health insurance exchanges and other health reform provisions.

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