Despite some recent missteps, Facebook remains a thriving place for online patient communities. Understanding how patients are using Facebook can help those in the healthcare industry leverage the platform to better engage with patients and caregivers.
Why do patients use Facebook?
Patients use Facebook the same way and for the same reasons that most people do – to share photos and stories with friends and family, to laugh at silly memes, and perhaps even get into the occasional heated political argument.
But Facebook has deeper significance to patients. Unlikely as it may seem, the world’s largest social networking platform serves a key role in patients’ overall care.
Especially for those with chronic illness, the non-clinical part of the healthcare journey takes up a lot of personal bandwidth. Facebook offers a place where patients can connect to process the full experience of the healthcare journey. Patients share stories and ask for advice. If they don’t fully understand something after a doctor’s appointment, they might turn to fellow patients on Facebook for help. Patients often seek the support and understanding of someone else who has been there, someone who “gets it.”
Being a patient isn’t just about medical care.
Chronic illness impacts every part of a patient’s life. Not just physical health, but mental and emotional health as well. There is also an impact on personal relationships, spiritual life, and career. When you consider the overall determinants of health, the clinical experience is just one slice of the pie.
Determinants of health – source
On Facebook, patients can find support from a community that speaks to the whole lived experience of a person with an illness – support they don’t necessarily get in the traditional healthcare setting, perhaps because there just isn’t enough time during a typical medical appointment. This is exacerbated by the wait time to get in to see a doctor, which continues to grow.
There’s not enough time for patients to get all the answers they seek at the doctor’s office. – source
How do patients use Facebook?
Patients use Facebook to share health information both publicly and privately. They use posts and open groups to share publicly and messages and closed groups to share privately.
This WEGO Health Behavioral Intent Study sheds some light on patient behavior on Facebook.
Groups are a big part of Facebook’s online patient communities.
According to Facebook executive Danielle Salowski, there are more than six million health-related groups on Facebook, totaling more than 70 million members. These include both closed and open groups. For many patient communities, a closed group offers all-important privacy and the freedom to talk about fears or sensitive topics.
One example is the Diabetes Strong Community, run by Patient Leader Christel Oerum. The group boasts over 12,000 members and is a place for members to share knowledge and support. As Christel describes, the group has been an invaluable lifeline for some members.
Direct and group messages
In addition to Facebook Groups, direct and group messages are another way that patients actively engage on the platform. It’s not uncommon for patients to find one another through groups and then to continue the conversation in a more private setting. This 1-on-1 interaction allows patients to dive deeper into sensitive topics and build a closer personal connection.
Whether they are engaging in groups or via Facebook Messenger, the health information patients share and discuss translates into real-world actions. The overwhelming majority of patients in the WEGO Health behavioral intent study said experiences in online patient communities like Facebook impact their health decisions. For healthcare companies, that is too big to ignore.
What do you need to know as a member of the healthcare industry?
The first thing to understand is that Facebook is where the patients are. It’s also important to note that many patients are somewhat skeptical about healthcare organizations’ presence on the platform. To create any kind of meaningful interaction with patients on Facebook, it’s essential to be mindful of several things:
You are competing for attention in a crowded space.
Patients aren’t sitting around waiting for you to show up. Their lives and Facebook Feeds are busy. If you want to stand out in a space this crowded, you should pay attention to what is and isn’t attracting attention. Your content needs to be at least as worthy of attention as the latest cat video or viral quiz.
You will need to work hard to be authentic and build trust.
Many patients are wary of health content on Facebook and you may have to work to overcome the “fake news bias.” A good way to be authentic is to always lead with empathy. Don’t just show up and expect patients to trust you. Prove to them over time that they should.
It helps to be entertaining.
Healthcare isn’t necessarily a fun or funny topic, but that doesn’t mean you have to be serious all the time. Facebook is as good a place as any to showcase content that is entertaining and memorable. Try tapping into a trending meme. Or, create a video with the potential to go “viral” within your niche market or community.
Consider the whole patient journey, not just your specific role.
Are you operating from a patient-centric perspective? Treat patients with empathy and remember that their lives are about more than their illness. Facebook is a good place to show that you know they are people first and that you understand that illness impacts all facets of their life.
Are you adding value?
Patients are a savvy bunch. They don’t want to be pandered to. If you are not adding meaningful value to their lives, they are unlikely to welcome you into their Facebook experiences. Add value by being educational, entertaining, or by fostering community. It’s worth mentioning that fake news in healthcare is still a significant problem on Facebook. Since patients turn to the platform with questions about their condition and treatment options, this presents your organization with an opportunity to provide answers and to build a trusted relationship. Studies have shown that it’s possible to improve patient engagement and satisfaction through Facebook, but you must have something meaningful to offer to see measurable results.
Patient Leaders can help.
If you are struggling to engage patients on Facebook, ask a Patient Leader for help. WEGO Health’s network of 100,000+ Patient Leaders can be an invaluable resource as you seek to improve your messaging and overall engagement. Patient Leaders already have trust and credibility among other patients, as well as a unique understanding of the patient experience. Insights provided by Patient Leaders can help you clarify your message and break through the noise.
Patient engagement with Facebook is here!
Why Facebook? Why not, really? Facebook is the way that many patients interact now. So, it makes perfect sense for any organization interested in influencing or interacting with patients, to do so on Facebook. What better way to reach out and share new findings about treatments, or even to remind patients to visit their HCP? It’s probably safe to say that no one could have predicted the level at which organizations would be engaging with patients through Facebook. But, today’s reality is that patient engagement with Facebook is here!
How will you use Facebook to engage with patients?