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How to Engage with the Family “CMO” on Social Media


In our previous post, we talked about recent research by the Center for Talent Innovation that indicated a majority of women serve as their household's "CMO", or Chief Medical Officer — the family member who makes medical decisions for others in their care. But even though many women are serving in that capacity, female consumers report a lack of confidence in their own healthcare decisions and in the advice given to them by their providers.

How can we, as an industry, address that barrier to effective care delivery? It's obvious that there is more that the American healthcare system can do to engage women — the astounding growth we have seen in women's health initiatives over the past decade certainly speaks to that.

But opening clinics and expanding programs is one thing — getting the word out to women and supporting their unique needs is quite another. One potential solution? Social media.

How can social media help female healthcare consumers to feel more confident in their decisions?

Well for one thing, social media platforms, by their very nature, are well-suited to community building. And community support can be very important to women who find themselves in a decision-making role.

That is not to say, however, that women need others to guide their decisions. But many women do report that they often seek out information and input from peers as they evaluate options and move through a decision-making process. A significant number of women, it seems, are consensus builders.

To that end, improving women's access to peer groups and experts — especially in a health decision-making process — may help providers to imbue these "family CMOs" with the information they need to move forward.

Social media groups, mHealth forum apps and other solutions that would allow busy women (especially working mothers, of whom 94 percent surveyed said that they are the primary medical decision-makers for their families) to engage others could be very empowering to them.

"Digital connectivity provides women with a very public way to assert their identities, build a supportive private or public community," wrote Mashable contributor Rebecca Ruiz.

Social media support could also help women who need supportive care during a major illness.

Chronic and serious illnesses, major surgeries and long recovery periods are stressful for anyone. Generally speaking, while men tend to compartmentalize and close off to deal with stress, many women report that talking about problems with their peers helps them to process, grieve and gain strength to carry on.

Social media-based health support communities are excellent ways to serve female health consumers' needs in this capacity. Disease-specific support forums, for example, allow women to share their challenges and successes with peers who can, in turn, advise them and empower their decisions.

Ruiz shared an example of a way that social media helped one patient. Sara Bartosiewicz-Hamilton, a woman living in Kalamazoo, Michigan, found out that she was a carrier of the BRCA gene that is linked with drastically increased odds of developing breast cancer. She subsequently made a very difficult, but medically advisable decision — she opted to have an elective, preemptive double mastectomy.

The procedure may have been lifesaving, but as might be expected, it left Bartosiewicz-Hamilton with much uncertainty. Questions she had not thought of before the procedure — like how a lack of breasts would affect the way she wore her clothing, or how her feelings of self-worth would be affected post-surgery — began plaguing her.

Although most women who undergo double mastectomies do not also have reconstructive surgery, Bartosiewicz-Hamilton was convinced that she was one of the minority. She felt alienated and alone, Ruiz reported.

As a result, Bartosiewicz-Hamilton turned to social media for answers — and support — from other women who had undergone the same procedure. She and a friend cofounded a Facebook group (cheekily titled "Flat and Fabulous"), on which members could discuss issues, such as altered views of their own femininity. The page quickly grew to 1,600 members, and Bartosiewicz-Hamilton found that she was anything but alone.

Social media forums may represent a medical marketing boon for providers who want to reach female health consumers.

There is power in numbers, and there are scores of women online who need better healthcare decision-making support. Increasing access to supportive care may improve outcomes for your female patients.

By providing social media-based solutions for your female constituency, you may be able to stoke their confidence not only in the care you provide, but in their own decision-making. And that will help them to make the right decisions for themselves and their family members.

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