Healthcare Slowly Taking Steps Online

WebMD is one of the many websites that consumers are consulting for health info.

We spoke with Porter Novelli’s new global director of health Susan Hayes the other day about some of the latest trends in healthcare PR. Among them is the move to online. Healthcare companies and brands have historically been slower to move to digital and social media because it’s closely regulated. However, with everything moving to the online world, that’s changing.

“It’s really about understanding where your influencers are and how to reach them,” Hayes said. Consumers and other target audiences are doing their research online, whether it’s about trying a new diet or finding information about various procedures. And the decision making process for many organizations has changed. So “following the purchaser and being where they are” is important, she said.

However, the challenge is taking the communication online without crossing the Food and Drug Administration.

“The FDA has not come down with any regulations or strong guidance for social media,” Hayes added. “In the absence of that, companies are trying to anticipate what to do. They’re trying not to overreact and deal with it in a rational manner.”

To that end, she says companies have developed or are developing social media policy guidelines (always important, no matter the industry) and are taking steps into Facebook, YouTube, and some have blogs.

Also interesting, is the way that medical professionals use wireless technology overseas in places like rural Africa where computers are scarce. In those cases, tools like GPS and mapping to see “where diseases are moving” have become valuable.