Patient, physician sites offer valuable audience access

In the last year, healthcare communicators have been playing catch-up when it comes to online monitoring.

In the last year, healthcare communicators have been playing catch-up when it comes to online monitoring.

Healthcare teams are increasingly monitoring patient-driven Web sites to identify grassroots organizations that comprise patient advocates, and then are approaching the groups to see if they want to collaborate.

The patient-driven sites are allowing PR teams to find niche populations more quickly than in the past, something that comes in handy for awareness for some of the more obscure diseases.

Marita Gomez, VP for Cushman/Amberg HealthInfo Direct, says that in the past year its media relations team has dedicated significant time to the practice and has been able to identify its audience more quickly. What's more, the tactic proves even more useful after the fact, using the sites to go back and look at whether communications moved behavior.

"It allows us to look at perception behavior more realistically instead of guessing," Gomez says. She admits that it's still in the early days for this type of work and that the more niche, the better.

Kate Cronin, former MD of Ogilvy's healthcare practice and current MD of the New York office, says the agency got a head start on online monitoring in 2004 when a blogger involved in a clinical trial began to report his symptoms online. "For us, that was an awakening," Cronin says.

The development of healthcare communications within new media might seem like a trickle now, but the faucet could soon be open. A plethora of new social networking sites are showing up, changing the way both doctors and patients interact with one another.

The launch of Sermo.com last year provided physicians a place to talk shop with one another. And while Lisa Dilg, director of media strategies for PerkettPR, the agency representing Sermo, says she hasn't considered communicators using the site yet, more such sites are on the way. And through them, communicators may gain improved access to otherwise hard-to-find information.

Key points:

Patient-driven sites allow communicators to identify key audiences faster

Monitoring sites can be good for measuring whether communications changed behavior, but must stay within regulations

New social networking sites for doctors and patients could further change communicators' practices

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