Listening in to healthcare consumers

The patient has always been a “consumer” of healthcare and life sciences services, but something has changed — to an exponential degree — in recent years.

The rapid growth of digitalization and mobile connectivity, coupled with the increased expectations of digital natives, has rapidly moved healthcare and life sciences communications into the next generation.

Historically, the patient experience was episodic: “I have an ailment and I interact with a healthcare organization to solve the healthcare problem.” But today, with the advent of wellness, diets and connected devices, patients spend the majority of their time acting as consumers.

These consumers expect engaging experiences that rival their favorite online retailers. The days of getting your health benefit options sent to you in a manila envelope — or filing claims on exhaustive paper forms — have gone the same way as stapling receipts to expense reports.

But these examples of evolution are really quite basic and don’t even qualify for what many would describe as digital disruption. The real change-maker is coming from data, and the many sources of data feeding the industry.

Even with its obsession with patient privacy, the healthcare industry has a treasure trove of information, with the consumer being what I like to call the “generator of engagement-driven data exhaust.” This goes far beyond extracting structured data from medical forms to now “listening in” to unstructured sentiment and trending health themes via social media.

Take, for example, this interesting social listening project led by the Cardiac Safety Education Collaborative (CSRC), a partnership between Drug Information Association (DIA) and the Cardiac Safety Research Consortium (CSRC). In this program, the organization monitors patient comments about adverse effects from cardiac drugs and devices made on social media.

Whereas many patients want to keep their personal health records private, they’re often still willing to divulge those same ailments in social media communities. Dr. Kevin Campbell, who heads up this adverse effects social listening project, says this is especially true when it comes to finding “kindred spirits” experiencing the same effects from a chronic disease.

This “listening” technique is becoming more prevalent in the rapidly emerging area of cognitive computing. Revolutionary new supercomputers such as Watson Health are not only gathering medical records and journal articles to double-check diagnoses and treatments,  but also monitoring conversations between these “kindred spirit” patients to add a human element to an otherwise digital experience.

As the patient/consumer increasingly depends on peers in online communities to help guide health and wellness decisions, healthcare and life sciences professionals and vendors are wise to monitor their sentiment. What may have been considered an invasion of privacy in the past could be a key part of the consumer experience today.

How is your organization using social media for patient/consumer trending?


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