Online health seekers don’t trust social media

  • A new survey profiling how American adults’ access, use and feels about health-related information finds that most American social media users who regularly seek health information are concerned about incorrect or misleading medical information on social media, and few have found health information on social media to be accurate.
  • Two-thirds of American Healthcare Information Seekers (67 percent) report that they see health information on social media. The types of information they see on social media are mostly wellness advice (56 percent) and advertisements for treatments or medications (52 percent).
  • More than eight in 10 Healthcare Information Seekers who have seen health information on social media (83 percent) say they are concerned about incorrect or misleading medical information.
  • The youngest cohort in our study, Gen Z, is just as likely to be concerned about incorrect or misleading information as the much older Boomer generation (91 percent and 87 percent, respectively).

In the research I have lead for clients over the past 3-4 years a lot of people said they read posts on social media, but very few actually trust the information they read when it comes to health.  In an era of “fake news” and “trolling” is this any surprise?

According to Weber Shandwick, while health information on social media has a credibility problem, Healthcare Information Seekers exposed to it identify several solutions for instilling more confidence: social healthcare information should be cited by a medical professional (43 percent), it should cite a scientific study (38 percent), it should be associated with a trusted brand (37 percent) and it should be cited by a trusted school or research organization (36 percent). The findings show a demand and opportunity for medical information on social media to be verified by respected third-party sources.

When it comes to satisfactory experiences with the information sources that are used, medical professionals far surpass any other source. At the very top of the list that users of health information were ‘very satisfied’ with are physician’s assistants/nurses and eye doctors (tied at 66 percent). However, the Millennial generation is least likely to be very satisfied with the information provided by medical doctors .

In evaluating other attitudes toward physicians, the study suggests that doctors may be contending with a Millennial trust challenge . In addition to their lower satisfaction levels with information from doctors (on a basis relative to other generations), Millennials are the least likely generation to say they always listen to their doctor(s), the most likely to believe that online health-related information is as reliable as that from medical professionals and the most likely to say they trust their peers more than medical professionals.

What’s really happening?

1ne: Social media in ingrained in our lives, but recent troubles at Facebook are causing a lot of people to question what they read.

2wo: Online health seekers will use social media but they will check posts against other content.

3hree: Even patient-to-patient communications can be questioned for accuracy.

A big opportunity

We tested a Twitter post for a client that read “one of the nation’s top authority on diabetes talks about new treatment options” which took people to some content written by a thought leader.  The engagement level was off the charts compared to a test Tweet “read about new treatments for diabetes”.

Pharma has a great opportunity to help people cut through the complicated world of online health information.  The information has to be easy to understand and above all speak to individual users reading the content.  Pharma should leverage thought leaders to write more content to increase engagement levels.

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