Social media’s future role in consumer healthcare

With an ageing population firmly on the horizon in the Western world, assisted by medical breakthroughs in the main, it’s estimated 1 in 5 of the population (10%) will be over 65 by 2018. This is only going to increase the pressure on national health services, driving a greater argument for privatisation (unfortunately for most). Private healthcare will obviously boom, meaning greater levels of investment in tech and marketing, especially in the realms of social media, which will become the principal medium of communication between healthcare professional and patient.


From the national health perspective, social media will be seen as a way to help drastically reduce this pressure on the primary care sector, giving people access to the health professionals and information they need, when they need it. But on the other side of the coin, by 2020 many of us will have invested in a private healthcare policy recognising that the ever-increasing pressure on the NHS is unsustainable and that we simply can’t stomach the extended waiting times to get in front of a GP, even through a social media led consultation.

By 2020 social networks will have firmly integrated social commerce functionality, driven by artificial intelligence algorithms that will understand your purchasing habits, mood and symptoms – this will be achieved through the tone and language of your shared posts and videos. Armed with this unique insight into your on-going current status, social networks will charge their advertisers a super premium for an even greater detail of data to align advertising to. New advertising products will provide access to ‘live’ data rather than simply demographics. Example: A morning-after-pill marketing team will be able to set advertising to present to females of a specific demographic who can be identified as went out clubbing the night before.

Consider that our reliance upon social networks for news curation, keeping in touch and shopping is only going to increase too – we’ll all be firmly hooked, the over 65s in particular. Remember that this is the demographic that will have the disposable income too – making them a pharmaceutical marketer’s dream audience: they need more care (are hell bent on living longer) and they’ve got the money to make it happen.

60 is officially recognised as middle age!

Both public and private healthcare organisations will use social media as a ‘customer care tool’ in the main, carrying out virtual consultations in the home/at work before deciding whether to book the patient in for a physical examination or not. As is now, the main difference between public and private being a question of waiting time for a consultation.

Healthcare consultations will take place as standard on premium (pay by the minute) secure video links, which YouTube will own the market share of although individual health centres will invest in their own software. Most of us by now will own an Android or iOS compatible watch, which will become the ‘first screen’ over smartphone or laptop.

Consumers will become far more accepting that their health is their own responsibility and thanks to the convenience of social media combined with wearable technology, they will have greater control and be able to act on health issues faster. Wearable healthcare tech is now worn as a preventative measure as well as a means of ensuring wellness. The more advanced systems (mainly from well funded private healthcare suppliers) will use this tech driven system to differentiate and advertise the fact they will contact you immediately if they receive signals for concern.

Our reliance upon ‘Googling’ answers to our health issues will be tamed slightly with ‘cowboy information’ curbed through government-Google intervention based on the fact much of it can be dangerous if misinterpreted. However, private patient communities will form and congregate on niche healthcare apps, offering crowd sourced support and experience sharing. Early apps such as ‘7 Cups Of Tea’ which encourages support for current sufferers of depression from previous sufferers is a great example of leading the way here. Consumers will be able to share their experiences with particular drugs through an approved rating system that is universally recognised. These niche apps/communities will drive income from allowing drug companies and healthcare services to access their data, which will in turn allow for real time, honest drug and service feedback. They will also provide early indications to government around influenza and other diseases – this could potentially help track how diseases are spread, allowing for a much greater chance of rapid containment.

Governments will incentivise ‘good behaviour’ through lower taxes (e.g. not smoking, regularly exercising etc). Wearable tech integrated with social media will police our lives here, life insurance companies insisting that we wear 5th generation Jawbone bands that make sure we don’t live our lives to excess!

As you can see, there’s so much change afoot! Exciting times for all – if you’d like to chew the fat with us and understand/plan for your brand’s future in healthcare then please get in touch!