Social POV: YouTube for Patient Engagement

YouTube entered the social media landscape in 2005 and quickly changed how we consume video. With over one billion users in 91 countries watching one billion hours of content daily, the reach of YouTube is in a league of its own.

While most of us think of YouTube as a video-sharing platform, it is also a search engine in its own right, second only to Google, its parent company. YouTube processes more than three billion searches monthly. And of course, Google also features YouTube entries in its own search results.

For online patient communities, YouTube is a powerful platform to connect, learn, and interact with peers. Patients can view video content from trusted sources like The Cleveland Clinic or American Heart Association, but they can also hear from each other. For life sciences companies, YouTube offers a low-friction way to meet patients where they are. So, what is the best way to use YouTube for Patient Engagement?


Who Uses YouTube?

It’s something of a myth that YouTube is only for Millennials and Gen Z. The 18–34 year old demographic is YouTube’s most popular among adults in the U.S., but people of all ages are streaming video. In fact, a majority of the U.S. population is using YouTube across every age group.


By a large margin, most Americans are using YouTube. – source


The gender breakdown of people who use YouTube is an even 50-50, with 83% of both U.S. males and females using the platform. That said, Omnicore reports that males have a slight edge over females when it comes to total watch time.

Both men and women engage with YouTube’s video content. – source


According to YouTube, more than 70% of watch time is on mobile devices.

YouTube is truly a global phenomenon, and the platform’s reach continues to expand. You can stream video content in 80 different languages, reaching 80% of the global internet population.

YouTube offers a way to reach a global audience. – source


How Patients Use YouTube

A new WEGO Health survey of active and engaged patients found that usage of YouTube still lags behind other platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. That said, usage is not inconsequential. The majority of patients surveyed are visiting YouTube at least once a week.


A February 2019 WEGO Health survey found that 68% of patient leaders use YouTube at least once a week.


While it’s possible to engage with YouTube without subscribing or following particular channels, subscription numbers are an important usage metric. In our patient leader survey, we found that more than 65% of patients subscribed to at least one YouTube channel.



A growing number of patient influencers and opinion leaders actively use YouTube as an avenue for their advocacy work. Nominees in the WEGO Health Awards Best in Show: YouTube category cover a broad range of condition areas and content styles.

For example, 2017 WEGO Health YouTube winner and 2018 finalist Amy Lee Fisher has two YouTube channels, Amy Lee Fisher and Amy’s Life, both centered around her life with chronic illness. Amy lives with a number of illnesses, including HKPP, Gastroparesis, and POTS. In introducing her YouTube channels, Amy says:

“I suffer with chronic illness but I’m determined not let it get in the way of doing what I love! I LOVE spreading awareness about chronic illness & I LOVE making videos and even better I love making them for you guys and watching you all enjoy them!”

Through her videos, Amy aims to educate others. She shares vulnerable and real insight into what the chronic illness experience is like, including showing viewers what medical testing experiences are like and offering an up close and personal look at her use of medications and medical devices. She says that social media channels like YouTube have changed her life for the better. In turn, her videos are changing the lives of other patients as well. In her nominations for the WEGO Health Awards, Amy was described as a person who uses her story to help others through the struggles of daily life with chronic illness.

Amy’s main YouTube channel has over 130,000 subscribers and nearly 11 million views. Her secondary channel has over 58,000 subscribers and nearly 5 million views.

While patient leaders like Amy are certainly popular YouTube destinations, patients are paying attention to content from other creators as well. A recent WEGO Health survey on social media usage among active and engaged patients found that they are following patient leaders and advocacy organizations at high levels, but some follow their own healthcare professionals and pharma brands as well.

The percentages may be modest, but some patients are already following both HCPs and pharma.


YouTube: Best Practices for Pharma Brands

To engage patients on YouTube, most of the rules apply that we see on other platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. First and foremost, offer value to patients and find ways to invite them in. Patients have almost endless content choices. If you want them to watch your videos, you need to make it worth their while.

  • Video offers a number of particularly helpful ways to display educational content. YouTube can help patients understand complex medical concepts in a vivid and engaging manner.

Pfizer uses YouTube to explain a complex topic of interest to patients. – source


  • Increase awareness. Awareness is deeply important for many patients and can be as simple as highlighting special awareness dates, like World Cancer Day or Lupus Awareness Month. If your team participates in any kind of fundraising events like Bike MS, share videos both leading up to the event and of the event itself while also highlighting some facts about the disease.

Johnson & Johnson uses World TB Day to raise awareness for tuberculosis while also highlighting their own efforts to eradicate the illness. – source


  • Show your human side. Patient trust in pharma is still quite low. Surveys show that patients believe pharma puts profits before people. If you’re concerned about building trust, show patients that your company is made up of valuable human beings, each offering something unique to your brand. For example, consider highlighting research scientists working on a particular health condition. Or show employees volunteering in the real world or contributing to a charitable cause related to one of the conditions your company works on. Showing the humanity behind your corporate identity can be an effective way of leveraging authenticity.

Amgen shows employees working on building a Habitat for Humanity home, showing off the humanity behind the corporate entity. – source


  • Highlight patient stories. This is a constant refrain at WEGO Health but we stress it because it works. Patients trust other patients in a way that is fundamentally different. Partner with patient influencers and give them a platform to share their stories. Better yet, these patients have fans on social media already and their followers are likely to pay attention. This may be especially true with patient leaders who are already active on YouTube. Working with one of these patients means opening the door to potentially thousands of other patients engaging with your content.

Novartis shares a high number of real patient stories on their YouTube channel. – source


  • Speak to the whole patient. Patients are more than just their disease or health condition, yet they often feel they are seen as their illness alone. Brands that speak to the whole experience of individuals are likely to win more trust and attention. One way to approach this is to share content about overall health and wellness.

Merck shares recipes of interest to patients and non-patients alike while staying within the realm of health. – source


Think about how you organize your content. When a patient stumbles across your channel, is it easy for them to navigate and find relevant content? Consider sorting videos into playlists or channels. In some cases, you may even want to have an entirely different YouTube account for different areas of focus, like one for corporate news and financial reports, and another for a patient audience. You might even try a multi-part series centered around a given topic or an episodic model. Novartis, for example, shares playlists for various health conditions like advanced kidney cancer and Meningococcal Disease as well as playlists for corporate news and a look at innovative work within the company and highlighting researchers. This makes it easy for patients to find relevant content quickly.

Novartis uses playlists so patients can easily find relevant videos. – source

  • Invite conversation. In an abundance of caution, it’s common for pharma brands to turn off commenting on YouTube videos. From a regulatory or PR standpoint, it’s easy to understand why. However, today’s patients are active and engaged. They want to be a part of the conversation. By preventing dialogue of any kind, it risks sending a message that you aren’t interested in patients’ views. That said, managing comments can be a major undertaking and learning how to respond to negative comments, especially, can be a tricky endeavor.

What to Avoid

As always when posting online, you should be careful to avoid low-quality content. Make sure your content is visually appealing and has good sound quality. You may want to think about branding, like Roche does with a clear and consistent branded look.

Roche presents their video content with a clear, consistent brand image. –source


You also may want to consider how to share and present content that will appeal to very different audiences. It may be off-putting to patients to see excessive sharing of corporate news, including financial reports and career information. This is especially true because of the low-trust perception many patients have of the life sciences industry. A 2016 Harris Poll found that only 9% of U.S. consumers surveyed believe “pharmaceutical and biotech companies put patients over profits.” For this reason, it might make sense to have separate channels for your content that appeals to different audiences.


If you’re not on YouTube yet, now is the time!

It’s clear that video is one of the most important types of content. For life sciences companies who want to engage with patients, YouTube offers a wealth of opportunities. Video offers a direct line of connection to patients, and patients are already active on YouTube. So, what are you waiting for?

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