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Technology is advancing in ways unimaginable several years ago and with this change comes a need for the healthcare industry to evolve with the times.

Facebook has been around for over a decade and is used by millions of people on a daily basis to keep in touch with friends and family, but during this time the pharmaceutical industry has done little to harness the full potential of social media. Now, according to an American-based study, there’s a need greater than ever for these users to also interact with their GPs, doctors etc. via social networking.

Researchers at John Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health looked into the difference between what patients crave from the healthcare industry in terms of communication and engagement, and what they are actually receiving.

“This study tells us that for most patients, healthcare isn’t quite ready for the future. On the one hand, doctors, policymakers and researchers often talk about the need to engage patients,” claims post-doc fellow Joy Lee, who worked on the research. Although over half of people who took part in the study voiced an interest in using Facebook and email to communicate with medical professionals, Lee recognised that many patients are already engaged with each other and the world of healthcare online.

So what would a change in how healthcare professionals and patients interact online mean for the medical communications industry?

These patients who are already active on social media for medical reasons tend to be there to find health information, are looking for support through discussion groups and forums, or to chronicle their conditions online.

Digital health already plays a major part in the day-to-day life of many healthcare professionals around the world, as they harness the use of electronic systems to enable patients to message their doctors, and to access test results, personal information and health tracking. But 56% of social media users have claimed they would benefit from their health providers using social media for appointment settings and reminders, diagnostic test results reporting, health information sharing, prescription notifications, and for answering general questions. Even those who aren’t currently using social media have said they would take to social networks if it allowed them to have another means of connecting with their doctor.

This would force medical communications to become more digital – but there would have to be very careful guidelines and regulations in place around what interactions could take part online between patients and doctors, as well as around advertising and promotion online.

One such organisation hoping to build on healthcare communications online is Cureatr. The NYC start-up aims to allow patients to send push notifications to doctors and clinicians through Care Transition Notifications and has already raised $13m in funding. The app will be designed to provide real-time push notifications to alert providers when their patients are treated in any care setting within their region. Although regulations surrounding the medical communications industry in America are different to those in the UK this shouldn’t deter the industry here from already planning their move into a more digital format.

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