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Spanish Physicians Take Heed: Social Media Influences Healthcare Decision-Making

The Spanish Twitter chapter of #hcsmeu (hashtag #hcsmeuES) held its first unconference on April 1st in Barcelona. For many it sounds like a convention of freakish fans of some cult science-fiction TV show (a group I’m also part of, by the way). But its actually a group of about 200 healthcare professionals from all over Spain who share their interest in social networks and their influence in this particular industry.

Many of those present were meeting face to face for the first time but all of them had previously been gathering weekly on Twitter for a one-hour discussion about the relationship between physicians, pharma, patients and ICT, just as other groups across Europe.

Nowadays even the most reactionary guy admits that both new technological advances and social networking are changing our world, and healthcare won’t be an exception. But these people saw it coming, they are ahead of their time.

In 2010, top searches in Google –in Spain– were for terms Facebook, YouTube, Tuenti(*) and Twitter, all social networks. An average Internet user typically spends 22% of his online time in social networks. Advertising expenditure declines on every media except the Web, where it keeps growing month after month. In fact, big brands have already detected a switch from direct influence –they get less visits to their websites– to mentions in social media: 63% of Spain’s Twitter users do use it to recommend products. 61% express their opinion about products and services. 84% don’t mind getting messages from brands, and many say that companies that make use of social media are outdoing their competition’s revenue and profit.

We are not so different in Catalonia (**). In 2011 more than 50% of Catalonia inhabitants have access to the Internet. And it’s not a habit of younger people anymore: although 25% of users are between 14 and 24 years old, another 25% are above 45, and this is the fastest growing segment (specially among 55 or older).

The social demographic of online users is above the general population’s average: high-class and upper-middle class account for 36% of total and outnumber users in low and lower-middle class. According to this data, we can assume that many of these Catalonia Internet users are already private healthcare consumers.(***)

On the other hand, Spain ranks 7th among countries with a wider use of social networks. 80% of Spanish web surfers belong to at least one social network, 60% check it every day. This phenomenon creates a new context in which users are no longer passive spectators – they also create content (i.e. expressing their opinions through blogs, uploading photos and videos), share what they like most (through links, status updates, e-mail, re-tweets…) or provide answers to other users’s questions (on chats, writing product/service reviews, etc.). They can do all of it at the same time or just a part, and everything in a social context. Forrester Research’s Social Technographics Report indicates that in 2010 74% of users do make use of this information and ideas provided by other users. This underlines the customization, credibility and significance that they see in this content.

In light of all this, its necessary that our industry (specifically the private sector, to which I belong) needs to have a well-thought out presence on these social networks and stop waiting to find out if they are a passing hype, a trend, or a revolution.

What is absolutely true is that getting in is not that expensive or difficult… but keeping out of it can cost us dearly.

PS. Photo is courtesy of Paco a.k.a. @dagmar96hours and can be found on

PS2. Credit for all hard data research is due to outstanding Eva Velasco.

(*) Tuenti is a Spanish-born social network focused on teenagers.

(**) Catalonia is a region in the South-East of Spain with a fairly autonomous government and distinctive culture and language. Barcelona is its capital.

(***) In Spain every citizen is covered by public healthcare. But wealthy citizens tend to buy private insurance to get better service in some areas and skip waiting lists.

*This blog post was originally published at Diario Médico*

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