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Health Care Needs a Dose of Social Media

Naimish Patel
Naimish Patel

Health care isn't inherently social. It doesn't typically evoke positive emotions—you're calling the doctor because you're sick, not because it's #ThrowbackThursday. Other experiences, such as shopping, dining and travel, are inherently social. As a result, these industries have leveraged social media to improve the consumer experience.

According to the Journal of Internet Medical Research, 60 percent of adults surveyed used the Internet to find health information. Meanwhile, less than 15 percent actually engaged in social media to discuss health with their peers. This is largely because the health-care industry has failed to enable social opportunities for consumers, because it has not had an incentive to truly focus on the consumer. However, this will soon change with the Affordable Care Act's mandates on patient outcomes.

Currently, a staggering 75 percent of health-care costs are related to preventable illnesses such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol and asthma. Financial incentives for providers to improve patient outcomes will create a greater focus on prevention and a shift toward patient responsibility. This means the industry should start to view the patients as "consumers" and find ways to improve their overall satisfaction and increase engagement. One clear way is going the same route that retail, dining, travel and other consumer industries have gone: social.

It's important to recognize that some of the recent patient engagement advancements in health care are steps in the right direction. Take employee wellness programs, for example. It's a great approach—creating a healthier working environment, offering incentives and using colleagues as inspiration. But adding a social layer to this—one that combines your coworker's voice with your spouse's, children's, best friend's and even a stranger who is experiencing the same challenges—can lead to long-term systemic changes.

(Read More: A $34 Billion Conversation in the Cloud)

Some health issues are a result of individual behaviors, but using the people around us can help change those. As Nielson reported, 92 percent of the major influences in our lives come from those we know, and because so much of our interaction now occurs online, it's time to use social media in health in a bigger way.

At Audax Health, we believe that going social leads to better health and a better health system, and the industry is poised to be reinvented by social media. As this change gets underway, here are three lessons learned on what's proved successful in social media to increase engagement and improve consumer outcomes:

1. Consumption

People need to be able to visualize their health.

This trend is evident with the popularity of platforms like Instagram and Pinterest: We like seeing information through graphics. These social sites have given us a more effective way of browsing through content with a constant stream of free-flowing material at the tips of our fingers. We find ourselves scrolling through endless pages of "stackable" content, being drawn to the visuals. There is infinite data in health care to draw from to develop these engaging graphics for users— presenting it in a way that's not only easy to consume but to understand. Technical health jargon makes it difficult for consumers to connect with their health. There's great information on medical charts, but consumers can't read them, so why not create a visual health report? A 20-page whitepaper about hypertension is useless, but a personalized infographic that's intuitive and simple can help them visualize a story about their individual health.

(Read More: CNBC Disruptor 50 List: Taking on the Corporate Giants)

2. Connection

People need to be able to freely share their health status with those who most influence their environment.

Social media is about making it easy for large populations to connect with one another. People enjoy talking to and hearing from their online networks. A peer's review of a product or service can be the deciding factor of whether or not we choose to use it. A recent study of social media trends found that 78 percent of shoppers first refer to their Facebook friends' opinions before making a decision to visit stores. The health-care industry should leverage this behavior of peer-sharing and observed behavior. We can influence people to take the first step to better health by changing the conversation from "guidelines suggest …" to "people like you. ..."

(Read more: CNBC Healthcare Disruptors)

3. Integration

Social media is at its best when everything works together

Any good social platform plays nice in the sandbox. But social media in health care right now is a series of walled gardens. There are several great digital health tools available, but they have notoriously low adoption rates because they lack immediate value for the end user. None of them are working together, and they are sending users in too many different directions. By integrating core services such as provider directories and health savings accounts, and using social media to reimagine them, we can improve the user experience and give them functions they actually want and need in one connected place. Think health-care provider directory meets Yelp, and health savings account meets Groupon.

Managing our health has always been fundamentally important, but with skyrocketing costs and the high prevalence of preventable diseases, we need to take more proactive steps to encouraging people to better handle their health and wellness. Technology and social media have come to play an incredibly meaningful role in our society, and using the existing mediums and creating social tools specifically for the industry, we can begin to arm consumers to be more involved in their managing their health. Sectors including retail, fashion, dining and entertainment are already using social well, and at Audax, we're helping the health-care industry take a page from their book to improve health and lower costs.

—By Naimish Patel, vice president of product marketing at Audax Health

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