"Should I see a doctor for my cough?"
"What could this rash be from?"
"Who treats 'GERD?' And what's the best treatment path?"
"Who's the best doctor to be my OB/GYN?"
We continue to ask our friends and family these questions, but now we increasingly turn to search engines and our extended network of friends in social media.
When consumers are using social media -- really, even searching online for health topics -- they are seeking answers. Before the rise of the Internet, consumers got medical information by asking questions of their friends and family and, when needed, their doctor.
Now, consumers are asking these very questions from others on the web -- they may ask friends and family through Facebook, but our networks have grown in size and geography, so we're casting a wider net with our questions.
A Win-Win For Consumers?
Well, yes and no. When putting a question out to the general population using social media, you may not get answers that are entirely correct or that fit your specific inquiry.
However, there are many resources online where you can be sure of a higher level of accuracy of an answer or query result received.
The health web today offers rich, medically vetted information. Additionally, there are sites where you can find and connect with people who have similar conditions, such as MedHelp and JustAnswer, where you can get more detailed information specific to your question from health professionals, and even share stories about the disease, treatment or symptom.
Maybe you're just looking for a quick answer, with no connections -- while social media is meant to provide connections, we aren't always looking for feedback, just facts. In the last six months, we've seen a big rise in question and answer capabilities across search and social media sites.
General and Quick Inquiries
Sites like Ask.com, Quora, and Yahoo Answers are geared to provide fast responses to queries. In addition, ShareCare, a concept from Jeff Arnold of WebMD fame that debuted in late 2010, focuses on Q&A strictly related to health and wellness from leading institutions and professionals.
You'll also notice that some of the most trafficked health sites like Yahoo Health or AOL Health use Healthline SmartAnswers, a tool that provides 250,000 definitions, links to news, symptoms, treatment, and other related data in search results, all with answers that are medically accurate, but in layman's terms.
Fast, easy to understand, accurate answers are what consumers are seeking most often when they turn to social media and search for health; the table illustrates the types of questions and answer sources that are most typical in social media and search. From there, they may want to connect with others or further explore a topic by asking more questions.
As health marketers, we must ensure that we are helping consumers find these answers -- in a timely manner, as no one wants to wait for hours to figure out whether the sum of their symptoms requires seeing a doctor.