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A new study from business services firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers has found that pharmaceutical and healthcare brands lag behind other business when it comes to taking advantage of growth opportunities available through social media channels.

The study found the industry’s executives are behind in social media use when compared to their customers. Out of 124 executives interviewed, half expressed worries about how they were going to integrate social media listening into their business strategy. Those leaders also weren’t sure how to prove the return on investment, according to the study.

Out of 1,060 consumers that PwC polled, about 42 percent read health-related user reviews on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Thirty-two percent of those polled said they accessed information which concerned the health experiences of friends and family. Twenty-nine percent looked for social media users who had had an illness similar to their own, and 24 percent looked at videos and photos uploaded from people currently suffering from a similar illness.

Kelly Barnes, PwC’s US health industries leader, said, “The power of social media for health organizations is in listening and engaging with consumers on their terms. Savvy adopters are viewing social media as a business strategy, not just a marketing tool.”

A few more key stats from the survey included:

  • 28% of users supported health-related causes on the web
  • 24% uploaded comments giving details about their own health status
  • 16% posted reviews of medication
  • 15% mentioned health insurers.

The study showed that health brands would see huge benefits to creating and monitoring social media channels because 43% of users said they would be likely to share positive experiences about a brand of medication they used, and 38 percent said they would share negative opinions, giving a transparent view of medication effectiveness for anyone interested and also understand the patient voice.

Seventy percent of the social media users expected a response from an inquiry on a healthcare company’s social media channels to come back within 24 hours, and 66 percent expected the same response time for a complaint about goods or services.

Social media users had one of their first digital interactions with medical world in February 2009 when Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, MI became one of the first hospitals to allow a procedure to be live-Tweeted from within the operating room. Used as a sort of real-time textbook, other doctors, medical students and anyone else who was curious could follow along as surgeons gave updates on a kidney surgery that removed a cancerous tumour.

While not as directly profitable as a healthcare brand using social media, such procedures can generate excitement for the hospital or medical organization, especially when they look to raise money during fundraising campaigns or attract new patients.

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