Health IT

How the medical industry is using (and could use): Pinterest


The medical industry has developed a certain comfort level with the first generation of social media sites: Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and LinkedIn. A second wave – including Pinterest, Google+ and StumbleUpon – offers hospitals, medical device and pharmaceutical companies a new set of tools for building a social media strategy.

The picture-driven Pinterest made Internet history recently by rocketing to 10 million subscribers in just under two years, and has already surpassed all of the original four except for Twitter for referral traffic. The majority of users are early adopters of social media, women in their 20s and 30s who are sharing pictures in categories ranging from beauty and fitness to science and nature.


“[Pinterest] is fascinating,” said Brendan Gallagher of Digitas Health. “It’s social commerce cleverly disguised as an aspirational visual scrapbook,” referring to Pinterest’s deal with Skimlinks to generate revenue.

Users can upload images directly to a particular “board” or use a toolbar widget to “pin” an image from a blog post or web page. The software automatically imbeds a link in the image, making it easy to find that recipe, pair of shoes, or infographic again. Although there is a considerable retail component to Pinterest through links, there could be room for much more than that. Users can follow a board, repin images to their own collections and like individual pins. One navigation tip for users: companies can be listed as people.

Boosting morale. One of social media’s greatest strengths, particularly Facebook, is the ability to bring individuals separated by geography together in communities with shared interests, like fighting a disease. The emotive factor that goes along with aesthetically pleasing photos could be enlisted to inspire a community of cancer patients using an inspiration board to boost morale, observes William Martino of Saatchi & Saatchi Health.

The health component is so early stage on Pinterest that it does not have its own category heading.

The art of medicine. Pinterest is, first and foremost, a curation tool. There is a bookmark on Pinterest that’s a collection of infographics. Another is “cath lab love”, which includes old and new images of hearts and at least one cardiology team. It’s an opportunity for marketing officers to  delve into hospital archives and show the progress they’ve made. Medical device companies could present a brief history of how far they’ve come with their latest technology.

Lay a foundation for the future. Even if you don’t know what your company’s long-range strategy will be, Gallagher recommends including at least one visually striking image that is likely to be pinned and shared by an audience with an appreciation for aesthetics to gain enterprise advocacy. They can start by increasing their photo budget, a move that could follow a similar growth curve to video spend for YouTube.

Health education. Baylor Healthcare System has nine virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest. One focuses on helping people learn about gain a better understanding of family history, mammograms, healthy ways to order meals in a restaurant through a series of quizzes. Reed Smith, a social media consultant for hospitals and healthcare organizations, said healthcare organizations are starting to get involved with Pinterest because their primary users fits their target demographic. Women tend to be the healthcare buyers for their families. Summit Medical Group of New Jersey presence includes a video-driven board that includes segments presented by physicians on topics like calcium scoring, carpal tunnel syndrome and seasonal affective disorder.

Referrals. For some hospitals, their best business is referral business and they are looking to social media platforms like Pinterest to extend a dialogue with people who have already been through their hospitals.

Motivate and inspire. A hospital or rehabilitation center could use images from people recovering from surgery and charting their progress to inspire and motivate others and leaving viewers who may be strangers to the institution with a positive association. One bulletin board, optimized living, shows devices and therapies that can help improve one’s health. Children’s Medical Center of Dayton  bulletin boards look at good news stories from premature births to children overcoming adversity. It also uses images to show connections between physicians, nurses and children, a little reassurance for parents and children making what may be their first visit to the facility.

The quantified self. It may be a trendy term in the wellness quarter of social media, but the use of smartphone apps to monitor calorie intake, pulse, heart rate and manage one’s health is driving much of the innovation taking place in digital and mobile health. Companies that can provide images of how people can take control of their health using their devices or apps could establish a positive rapport with that business.

Disease state categories. “I could see pharmaceutical brands keeping an eye on the ‘disease state’ category,” said Gallagher. For example, if a patient wanted to visually document their experience battling cancer. That approach could work for hospitals, too. One bulletin board, called “cancer” has slogans and images that are intended to inspire users.