Social media listening delivers authentic patient insights

Fostering a healthy dialogue between pharma and healthcare consumers starts with understanding the person behind the patient.
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Social Media Listening Delivers Authentic Patient Insights
Sheila Mott

General Manager, Research, US

Fostering a healthy dialogue between pharma and healthcare consumers starts with understanding the person behind the patient. Our job is to ensure we hear and understand the stories of people and make them matter.

Today, patients are more empowered and focused on their health and wellness than ever before. While the digital age has revolutionized consumer access to health and wellness information, it has also provided us with powerful platforms for understanding our customers, especially the burgeoning use of social media for capturing candid peer-to-peer conversations.

The art of listening

One of the methods of research that we use to understand these authentic peer-to-peer conversations is social media listening. In our recent landmark study - "Patient Ecosystem: Understanding the Physical, Emotional and Social Impact of IBS" - we used social media listening in what we call qualitative research at scale. This requires an art of "listening” that gathers and interprets tens of thousands of posts and threads.

Social media has become the stage for the global Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) conversation, and it's no coincidence that IBS often presents in women between the ages of 20 and 30 years old, which matches the most active and socially connected demographic (based on Kantar TNS Connected Life 2016).

We sorted these posts into categories and subtopics and used them to answer questions such as:

  • What are sufferers’ key questions and concerns?
  • What are sufferers’ coping strategies?
  • Where are sufferers getting information online and offline?

What we found was an ecosystem fraught with confusion, embarrassment, belittlement and loneliness; and a condition that has a long, difficult and fearful path to diagnosis. Peer support is essential in the face of a critical view of what the healthcare system can provide in terms of answers about IBS or effective treatment. Sufferers often turn to social media in search of a second opinion from peers and for answers or a solution that doctors haven’t offered.

Exploring posts, which sometimes come from sites you wouldn’t typically think of for posts about medical conditions, e.g. TripAdvisor, add to the understanding of lifestyle impacts of IBS that make it difficult to plan vacations, go abroad, go out to eat or do new things. While there’s an openness to share about IBS on social media, it’s also apparent that there’s an embarrassment that keeps this condition under wraps in sufferers’ day-to-day lives.

However, a lack of information outside of the social media universe and personal feelings of frustration have led these socially connected patients to turn to one another for support and comfort – opening up a crucial online system of peer-to-peer support and patient advocacy.

Be a part of the conversation

By extensively examining the patient’s perspective through social media listening, we’ve come to understand that we can be part of the conversation that helps people with IBS achieve better outcomes. By listening to the candid conversations people are having with each other, we can identify the key influencers they talk about spontaneously and the contexts in which their condition most significantly impacts on day-to-day living

These rich insights provide us with the opportunity to identify clear pointers to drive business strategies and interventions to break the negative cycle of patient experience.