Healthcare | Influencer Programs

How Patients and Healthcare Professionals Can Be Influencers

How an Influencer Program Benefits Your Healthcare Organization

Why should Healthcare organizations consider implementing an influencer program?

Just a few years ago, healthcare companies and organizations were the sole authority and educators on healthcare related information. Today, while institutions and providers are still seen as topic experts, the rise of social media has meant that individuals turn to their own personal networks as a trusted, credible source of information almost as often as they do a healthcare provider.

In fact, more than 72% of consumers use social media1 to help them find information on their health-related issues. And they tend to trust that information more because they believe that others in their network don’t have a hidden motive, they have their best interests at heart.

research paper2 released in January 2014 studied parents of children with rare chronic diseases and found that social media in particular provided an effective support network. This echoes previous findings from Pew Research and adds to other evidence showing the psychosocial benefits of connecting with others online.

One mother shared her story about the positive impact the internet and social media has had in her life in the book ‘Uncommon Challenges; Shared Journeys”, a collection of stories on rare-disease caregivers. Her son has Canavan disease, a degenerative cerebral disease: “Before the internet, we were alone. In 1996, when Jacob was born, there was no search engine to offer me any information. Today, because of social media, we are connected with many people who are fighting the same fight as we are. The internet has made our small disease larger and we are able to educate many more people now.”

In healthcare, this means that both patients and healthcare professionals can wield great influence. Many patients, doctors, nurses, educators and others who have built trusted relationships are already actively advocating on numerous health issues in social media. They use their personal connections and professional networks to share information and stories on the topics that matter to them.

What is a Healthcare Influencer Program?

Simply put, an influencer program is an organized set of activities that involves having certain, selected individuals or groups share information or specific messaging with their social networks on behalf of an organization. By having others share content via their social media profiles, the organization can reach targeted audiences while leveraging the trusted relationships that person has within their network.

An influencer program in healthcare can take advantage of the power of trust that people have in their own networks and connections by using trusted healthcare professionals (HCPs) and patient advocates as influencers, educators and connectors.

Healthcare Influencer Program - healthcare professionals shaking hands

Healthcare Professional Advocates

HCPs as influencers can often be more “human”, with a more personal approach to the information they offer via social media. They can also reach a greater audience and provide important, timely information that helps patients stay up-to-date and feel more personally connected to their provider.

Patient Advocates

Patient “experts” who act as influencers can offer their personal experiences and provide important information about programs and services offered by healthcare providers. Patient influencers often help to bridge the gap between large institutions and their patients with realistic stories and authentic context:

Patient “Experts” Can Act as Influencers

Barby Ingle

  • Barby Ingle, a patient who has lived with chronic pain for years, shares her more than 7-year journey to a diagnosis of her pain via a blog and social media, eventually amassing a following of more than 27k followers who seek her guidance on how to navigate insurance, deal with chronic pain and maintain hope
BarbyIngle Patient Advocate

Dave deBronkart

  • Dave deBronkart is one of the pioneers of the patient engagement movement. His twitter account has more than 37k+ followers and the posts are a great combination of patient-provider stories, inspirational, and thought- provoking tweets.
Dave deBronkart Patient Activist

Katie Couric

  • In 2000, a year after her husband died from colon cancer, Katie Couric publicized her own colonoscopy on the TODAY show to try and raise awareness about the disease. IN the months that followed, researchers found that colonoscopy rates jumped by 20% across the US in the following months.
Katie Couric

Ultimately, healthcare providers can benefit from an influencer program by capitalizing on the trusted relationships and personal engagement within the social networks of healthcare influencers:

  • Patient engagement and support – patient experts and HCPs as influencers can engage in online forums and communities to offer patient support and engagement efficiently and at scale. Worth noting is that user-generated content – e.g. content that is published in social networks, ratings, reviews, comments and blogs – is highly valued by search engines because it is considered authentic, trusted, “real” content. As a result, search engines often bring forums and communities, rich in user-generated content, to the forefront of search results. When someone types “what are the side effects of taking iron” in Google, users will often see results and links to sites that include user-generated content, such as WebMD.com, which has user reviews on many of its articles.
  • Online discovery – attract new and returning patients by using influencers who can guide them to specific programs and services, educating and informing them as they search for health information online. Patients can connect with other patient experts as “peers” who have experienced similar health issues, and can share patient stories, experiences, and receive online support.
  • Patient feedback – influencers can help to improve the quality of customer service, discover new areas to improve, and gain qualitative feedback on new initiatives by acting as conduits for information and outreach to specific patient types, demographics and groups.

Influencer Program Benefits for Healthcare Providers

Case Study #1

The Power and Perspective of Mommy Bloggers: Formative Research with Social Media Opinion Leaders about HPV Vaccination, George Mason University Research Study, 2015 presented at 50th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, 2017

ENVIRONMENT: George Mason University conducted a study in 2015 to determine the effectiveness of utilizing “mommy bloggers” to promote awareness of an HPV vaccination program.

According to the study, “Mothers especially are using the Internet and social media to both inform and discuss health-related decisions for their children. In terms of health information, 86% of women report that they make the decisions about healthcare treatments for their entire family; and one-third of moms search the Internet for health information once a day or every few days…There are about 3.9 million moms in the United States who identify as bloggers. A mommy blogger is defined as, “A mother who blogs about her children, motherhood, parenting or related topics”. The average mommy blogger is 37 years old and almost 90% of mommy bloggers have kids between the ages of 2 and 11.”

NEEDS: The study explored the feasibility of utilizing mommy bloggers as opinion leaders in a HPV immunization campaign, to better understand mommy blogger perspectives on HPV vaccination (pre- and post-intervention), how they interpret and decide to communicate about the issue with their readers, and ultimately the response or dialogue that ensues with their readers.

RESULTS: The study ultimately completed with 4 blog posts, with a combined reach of 3,601,790 impressions over a 5-week period.

The blog posts remained live from November 9th through December 14th, 2015. The 4 posts received a total of 3 positive comments and zero negative comments.

Comment: “I WISH this had been around for my daughter, back when she was 17… During a routine exam, she had pre-cancerous cells on her cervix. After a year of exams, doctors, freezing off things, she was deemed cancer-free. Jump ahead another 6 years… after trying to have a baby for the first four years of marriage they are thankfully adopting. The scarring from her [cancer] kept her from having children. The vaccine would have been a God-send, and saved miscarriages, and heartache. I’m all for it.”

Additionally, the number of overall online mentions overall of HPV vaccinations did noticeably increase during this period, though the study does not correlate the blog posts directly to the increase in mentions.

The study concludes that “These preliminary results show promise for the utilization of mommy bloggers as opinion leaders in HPV promotion. While they represent another channel of public health communication, they also serve as an everyday opinion leader to thousands of mothers across the nation. Prior research has found that “the social network, including friends, family members, and media sources, are a key source of [health] information for many women”. Findings from this pilot study support these findings suggesting that they are well positioned to deliver timely health information and work hand-in-hand with health campaigners to influence behavior. Correspondingly mommy bloggers also serve as the voice of their readership and have the ability to advocate for others. In this way, mommy blogger social networks can inform the decision making process for many women, specifically moms and parents. nel of public health communication, they also serve as an everyday opinion leader to thousands of mothers across the nation. Prior research has found that “the social network, including friends, family members, and media sources, are a key source of [health] information for many women”. Findings from this pilot study support these findings suggesting that they are well positioned to deliver timely health information and work hand-in-hand with health campaigners to influence behavior. Correspondingly mommy bloggers also serve as the voice of their readership and have the ability to advocate for others. In this way, mommy blogger social networks can inform the decision-making process for many women, specifically moms and parents.”

Case Study #2

NYC Health & Hospitals – Healthy Women = Healthy Communities Influencer Campaign, March 2017

ENVIRONMENT: NYC Health + Hospitals launched a digital and social media influencer campaign to reassure New York City women of the wide range of health services available to them, regardless of immigration status or ability to pay. NYC Health + Hospitals treated 622,833 women in 2016.

NEEDS: Inspired by Women’s History Month and the uncertainty that surrounds the Affordable Care Act, the NYC public health system wished to raise awareness of women’s health issues and developed a digital marketing campaign that adopted the slogan “Healthy Women = Healthy Communities.” The campaign underscored how women’s health is at the heart of the health of the community.

RESULTS: The campaign featured six New York women whose stories represent the range of women’s health services offered by NYC Health + Hospitals. Over the course of six weeks, the campaign highlighted NYC Health + Hospitals’ youth health, reproductive health, breast health, mental health, prenatal care, primary care, and chronic disease programs. Ranging in age from teen to senior, the women shared their stories, which illustrate the spectrum of health concerns many women are likely to face as they transition through life.

The campaign was also promoted by community influencers who posted selfies holding messages in English or Spanish that sported the campaign’s theme.

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1           Understanding the role of social media in online health: A global perspective on online social support by Roderick Lamar Lee and Lynette M. Kvasny.
First Monday, Volume 19, Number 1 – 6 January 2014
http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/4048/3805