A fair number of consumers in the United States are relying on sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to help them with medical and health care issues.
Polling 1,060 U.S. adults in February, PricewaterhouseCoopers found that a third use social media to find medical information, research and share symptoms, and offer their opinions about doctors, drugs, treatments, and heath plans.
One in four of those surveyed said they've used social-media services to track down reviews from other consumers about treatments and doctors, while one in three have searched for information about medical ailments related by other patents. Further, one in four have posted about their own medical experiences, and one in five have joined an online health forum or community.
How are people using the information they find online?
Among those polled, 41 percent said information found through social media would affect their choice of a doctor or hospital, 34 percent said it would affect their decision to take a certain medication, and 32 percent said it would influence their choice of an insurance plan.
As with most things online, young adults seem to be leading the charge.
More than 80 percent of people between 18 and 24 said they'd share health information through social-media sites, while 90 percent said they'd trust such information from others.
But less than half of those between 45 and 65 would be likely to share their own health information on the Web.
The need for consumers to turn to social media for health care information is hardly surprising. As doctors are forced to spend less time with their patients, people naturally gravitate to other sources for help. But to keep up with their patients, health care providers also need to tune into social media, according to the report.
"The power of social media for health organizations is in listening and engaging with consumers on their terms. Social media has created a new customer service access point where consumers expect an immediate response," Kelly Barnes, U.S. Health Industries leader for PwC, said in a statement. "Health organizations have an opportunity to use social media as a way to better listen, participate in discussions, and engage with consumers in ways that extend their interaction beyond a clinical encounter."
Beyond surveying more than 1,000 consumers, PwC interviewed 124 health industry executives about health information and technology. The research firm also tracked the socia-media activity of various insurance companies, health care providers, drug makers, and patient forums to create a "Week in the life of social health" snapshot.