The other night when I began watching the movie 50/50, there it was within the first 15 minutes – health care communicators can no longer ignore the number of patients who are looking online for health information.


Inspired by a true story, 50/50 is an original story about friendship, love, survival and finding humor in unlikely places. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen star as best friends whose lives are changed by a cancer diagnosis in this comedy directed by Jonathan Levine.


Upon hearing the words CANCER from his doctor, Adam, the main character, tunes out. Much like the 80 percent of Internet users who get health information online, Adam moves directly to his computer to learn more about his new diagnosis.


"Neurofibrosarcoma Schwannoma. Treatment Forms: Chemotherapy and Radiation offer negligible success rates. Surgical resection proven to be most effective. Risks of surgery: Amputation of limbs. Paralysis. Death. 2 Year survival rate: 50%. If tumor metastasizes systemically, 2 year survival rate: 0%."


Key findings from The Pew Research Center relating to the e-patient:

  • Patients are becoming empowered and engaged – 61 percent of all adults get health information online (80 percent of internet users).
  • Participatory e-patients – 60 percent consume social media; 29 percent have contributed content
  • Crowd-sourced via e-patients: 19 percent consult rankings/reviews of providers (5 percent post them); 18 percent consult reviews of hospitals (4 percent post them)
  • 35 percent use mobile phone for health information; 29 percent have health apps on handhelds
  • How online searches affect decisions: 60 percent of e-patients say the information found online affected a decision about how to treat an illness or condition; 38 say it changed the way they cope with a chronic condition or manage pain
  • One in five Americans have gone online to find people with similar health concerns. This figure is higher, one in four, for people with a chronic illness.


Emergence of the e-patient

E-patients – those who are equipped, enabled, empowered and engaged in their health and health care decisions, are the key to improving quality within the health system. Nearly 40 percent of online users turn to social media for health information (Epsilon study, April 2010). Manhattan Research shows that 61 percent of people now use the Internet instead of visiting a doctor.


A poll from Harris Interactive found that 88 percent of online Americans search the Internet for health-related information. It is the frequency of use and extent to which patients trust online health information that is extraordinary. Fully 32 percent of all adults who are online say they look for health information often, compared with 22 percent last year. Only 9 percent reported their search to be unsuccessful, and 8 percent believe the information was unreliable.


The disconnect between value and implementation

According to The Roberts Group’s national survey of more than 100 key healthcare marketing executives, nearly 60 percent of marketers believe social media is important to their marketing program, and 83 percent believe social media will become more important in the mix of the media they use to support their business over the next five years. The majority of marketers say they have a good or very good understanding of display and banner ads, search marketing and social media, but 70 percent of respondents say they are not optimizing social media to the fullest. There is a clear disconnect between the value seen in social media and the number of marketers implementing it extensively as a part of their marketing mix.