Word of Mouth Trends for Healthcare Brands in the Digital Space
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healthcare, public relations, social media influencers, consumer health, consumer trends

Word of Mouth Trends for Healthcare Brands in the Digital Space

Whether you’re wondering which brand of cough syrup to choose or the best treatment for that stubborn rash, many of us will look online first for the answer. As many as 75 per cent of North Americans go online for healthcare options, and health companies are taking notice.

With consumers and patients rushing to online waiting rooms and discussion boards, savvy professionals in the healthcare space know that to reach their audience first, they’ll have to get down and digital.

For those looking to plug-in to their online consumer or patient database, we’ve outlined the top 4 trends for healthcare brands and service providers in the digital space.

  1. No end in sight for the growing “Dr. Google” trend

Patients and consumers are increasingly turning online to empower themselves with healthcare information before ever seeing a doctor.

Despite a recent study showing that symptom checker tools and search engines are relatively inaccurate compared to your doctor, a report from the Pew Research Centre revealed that most adults access health information online at least once a year and 35 per cent rely on the Web for a diagnosis.

Though the trend applies mainly to the younger generations, seniors are going online too. As many as 18 per cent of seniors surveyed for the National Health and Aging Trends Study got health information online in 2014.

As patients and consumers of all ages grow more comfortable turning to online resources and services to find answers to their healthcare questions, brands and service providers in the healthcare space will need to quickly build up their digital offerings. Providing audiences with reliable and up-to-date information online is more important that ever.

  1. Patients trust social media

Search engines and symptom checker tools are not the only places consumers and patients turn to for healthcare advice online.

A study from Health Research Institute found 40 per cent of consumers use information they find on social media to make healthcare decisions. Healthcare information seekers on social are looking to reviews, videos and discussion threads to help them form opinions.

The trend is even more significant in the 18-24 year-old group who are more than twice as likely to use social media for health-related discussions than older generations. Moreover, 90 per cent say they trust the information they find there.

While some healthcare organizations still struggle with how to use social media  while complying with the rules and regulations that govern communications in the industry and the liability that comes with having to respond to consumer issues and report them, many are embracing it.

The Mayo Clinic, for example, uses social networking to educate and connect patients and physicians. In 2010, the Mayo Clinic Centre for Social Media was created to coordinate the clinic’s many initiatives and programs. They have a strong online footprint that includes over 1 million followers on Twitter, an active YouTube channel and a daily podcast. Another example is Johnson and Johnson which was praised for its Facebook campaign offering scholarships to students looking to become nurses. Using its “Care Inspires Care” campaign, the company donated $1 to the fund each time someone submitted a photo of caring nurses in action.

  1. Moms are some of the most influential in the healthcare space

Women in the U.S. make approximately 80 per cent of health care decisions for their families and account for 93 per cent of over-the-counter pharmaceutical purchases. Many of these healthcare dollars are spent specifically by moms, 90 per cent of which are online.

Research shows that for health companies and service providers looking to tap into the rich U.S. mom market, social media is key.

The vast majority of moms use social networking sites, with most of them checking multiple times per day. The network of choice for moms looking for healthcare information is Facebook. Sixty-nine per cent of moms often share health related information via Facebook and spend  260 per cent more time on the platform than average user.

Tapping into these mom communities is an important step in reaching your healthcare demographic. However, it’s important to note that the majority of women feel misunderstood by health marketers, so taking the time to form an authentic connection based on trust and understanding is key.

  1. Healthcare, service providers and influencers are meeting consumers in the digital space

Communications in the health care space are slowly but surely changing to meet the digital needs of their audiences. For example, digital advertising from the healthcare and pharma sector is on the rise in the U.S. and expected to see double digital growth in the next five years. But ad spending is not the only place we’re seeing these changes.

Doctors as Influencers

A number of doctors are stepping up to become social media influencers in their own right.  For example, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, a staff neurosurgeon and CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent, has over 2 million followers on Twitter where he shares the latest health news and information. In Canada, a staff physician at St. Michael’s Hospital, Dr. Mike Evans, shares his whiteboard-style visual lectures with his 70,000 subscribers on YouTube on topics that range from HPV vaccines to dealing with daily stress.

“Pay Per Diagnosis” Sites

Doctors, HCPs and healthcare companies are engaging with patients directly through sites like Ask the Doctor, offering immediate advice from real doctors. These sites claim to give more accurate results while providing patients with the speed and convenience they want. Free sites like Google are also stepping up their game to compete in the healthcare space. This year, Google announced a new symptom checker app with the help of doctors and medical experts at Harvard Medical School and Mayo clinic, which claims to offer medically accurate information. Google will also use information it already knows about you (like your location and past searches) to improve searches.

Leveraging Patient, Celebrity and Social Media Influencers:

More health care brands are engaging influencers than ever before to promote awareness, share product benefits and drive healthcare sales. Questions about health are often sensitive and influencers offer a personal and authentic touch that brand content can’t replicate. For example one of our brand partners on feminine care encouraged women to open up about the unique health issues facing women by hosting an intimate and informative house party for women with a strong online presence and an authorities voice on women’s health. These influencers then continued the conversation online by sharing their experiences with their audiences through Twitter, Instagram and blogs.


With the majority of consumers turning online to educate themselves about their healthcare options, brands and healthcare providers need to be branching out to activate through online channels. To be heard above the noise in the online space, it is crucial to build relationships with consumers and patients by providing consistent access to reliable and up-to-date information from a source they can trust, and working with influencers who can help brands tap into the authentic human aspect of healthcare.

This article was written by Account Coordinator Lauren Douglas. Fuel the conversation and keep up to date with us @VeritasComm.