Wellness 2.0: How Social Media Is Engaging the New Health Care Consumer

Health care is entering a new era where consumers are becoming motivated by value and opportunities to lower costs and stay healthy. And technology and social media offer unprecedented new ways to engage them, a prominent health care economist consultant says.

Jane Sarasohn-Kahn, a health care economist, management consultant and Health Populi blogger, says the economic recession has forced a sea change among consumers.

“What the recession did to the consumer I believe is change retail and consumer spending forever,” she said.

Higher costs have made patients into more active, careful consumers who look for value, healthy-living resources and do-it-yourself opportunities in health care.

At the same time, Americans are defining health and wellbeing less as the absence of disease and more in terms of good physical, emotional and financial health.

“Sustainability is a message we’re hearing people talk about, personal sustainability,” Sarasohn-Kahn said.

The Philadelphia-area health economist and Michigan native was the keynote speaker Tuesday at Wellness 2.0, an event at Lawrence Technological University that examined how employee wellness efforts and social media are intersecting. The event was sponsored by WWJ-AM and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

The event also featured a panel discussion with Julian Bond, social media manager for the Detroit Medical Center, and Cindy Bjorkquist, director, Wellness, Care Management and Health Promotion Development and Consulting for BCBSM.

Bond discussed how the DMC’s efforts to promote its doctors and services through social media have evolved over time to promoting good nutrition and suggesting walking routes for employees at each of the health system’s eight hospitals. Turning toward internal staff has been tricky, since most employees are blocked from accessing social media sites like Twitter and Facebook at work.

“Social media actually is our biggest challenge with employees,” Bond said, adding that plans are in the works to lift the block.

Sarasohn-Kahn said surveys have found that up to 80 percent of Americans are now routinely turning to the Web for information about their health. While providers, health plans and other groups grapple with how to make those searches effective for consumers, it’s important that they leverage mobile apps, social media and other technology to reach consumers in new ways.

“I think this idea of Biggest Loser-type contests and wellness contests… are really going to get a lot of traction going forward,” she said.

Bjorkquist said the companies that best integrate social media and wellness efforts are those that build a culture of personal accountability and awareness of health. It’s also important to understand the social networking aspect of social media in fusing it with other wellness offerings, she said.

What about you; do you use social media or other technology to learn about health? What do you think is effective? What doesn’t work?

Photo by vladcampos

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