Patient Engagement

Healthcare’s 2012 on Twitter: @Poop_Strong vs. Aetna, Komen caves under criticism & more

This year in Twitter brought us that instantly famous photo of President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, more than 20 million tweets about Superstorm Sandy and the hashtag #RoyalBaby.

Among the highlights featured in Twitter’s annual roundup are two more significant examples that illustrate the power of social media in gathering the masses behind a cause, not just in healthcare but in general.

The first is the health insurance showdown between stage 4 colon cancer patient Arijit Guta, Aetna’s PR department and Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini.

Here’s a great recap of the Twitter exchange, which is definitely worth a read. But in short, the cost of Guta’s cancer treatment surpassed the $300K lifetime cap on his graduate student health plan, run by Aetna. To cover the more than $100K in hospital bills he ended up with after reaching the cap, he started a fundraising site called Poop Strong, built a community of social media supporters and waged a Twitter battle with Aetna and Bertolini.

After much online and offline dialogue, Guta reported that Aetna finally agreed to cover those bills. Bertolini took responsibility for the issues raised by Guta and his followers and noted that the situation was an example of the broken healthcare system.

The second example comes from Komen for the Cure, which announced in January that it would no longer give cancer-screening grants to Planned Parenthood because it doesn’t fund organizations under investigation by the government. The social media world called shenanigans and erupted with criticism of Komen for making what many suspected was a politically driven decision. New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, U.S. Sen. Al Franken and comedienne Wanda Skykes were among those who took to Twitter to support Planned Parenthood. Three days later, Komen reversed its decision and apologized via its website, Facebook and Twitter.

I have a couple items to add to the “best of healthcare Twitter in 2012” list.

Patient communities exploded. The Walking Gallery project, led by social media-savvy patient advocate Regina Holliday, completed its first year in June and made its way into health conferences across the country. She and other artists paint the backs of coats and jackets with symbolic images that characterize a patient’s story or a certain element of medical advocacy, with the goal of starting important conversations about the importance of data access for patients and families.

#thewalkinggallery, #PCORI and #patientexperience are now popular hashtags. Check out this visualization of the growth of patient-centered topics on Twitter put together by Symplur.

Doctors continued to jump on Twitter. Strategic communications firm WCG tracked the Twitter activity of 1,400 doctors and found that they tweeted an average of twice a day, with more than half of those coming during the workday. And they’re connected — the average doctor had 306 followers, and more than 1/3 of them were followed by at least 20 other doctors.

Obamacare advocates and foes took to Twitter to comment on the debates in record numbers. Some of their comments were insightful, and some were just plain funny.

Hospitals relayed updates, health tips and words of encouragement via Twitter during Superstorm Sandy.

What events would you add to this list?

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