Health 3.0: Baby Boomers, Social Media & the Evolution of Digital Healing

Who is online? As thefigure shows, the majority of adults from 18 to 50 are living some form of digitallife. Even older adults 65 and older are growing in numbers with an estimated38% online.

Now that they are online– what are they doing there? A recent Forrester study indicated that 60% ofbaby-boomers are avid social media users. Whereas many industry leadersconsider boomers too old to embrace technology, in fact their presence in thevarious social media outlets is up 40% from last year.  Women over the age of 55 are in factthe fastest growing segment on Facebook.Nonetheless, boomers don’t seem to post status updates, check in at foursquare, or post twitterfeeds as often as their younger social media predecessors. So, what are theydoing with social media?

Digital Healing

Marketing Agency, Epsilon, recently found that 40% of online consumers usesocial media for health information. But the lives of the online is more thansimply information seeking.

Consumers are trying tofulfill both rational and emotional needs. In addition, to finding basic informationabout drugs or specific health conditions, they are seeking reassurance,support and, at times, validation – digital healing. Reassurance that thebehaviors they are pursuing are in the mainstream. Support that they are notalone as either patient or family caregiver. Validation that the medications,devices and health services they are adopting are correct.

In fact, people arerelying so much on social media to answer their health questions, a ‘Health 3.0’movement is arising. Compared to Health 2.0, which involved making online informationresources available, Health 3.0 adds an interactive, social component into themix.

Resources such as Healthranker, Organized Wisdom, PeoplesMD, American Well and Patientslikeme, areproviding people with information and trusted communities to help them copewith diseases and get support from others in similar circumstances. Ageneration of advice seekers, baby boomers do not like to be alone in theirresearch and actively seek confirmation of their findings. The Pew Internet& American Life Project estimated that 78% of baby boomers use the Internetand social media to find health information. With boomers and older adultsspending more time on the Internet, approximately 58 hours per month, there area few issues that arise regarding relying on Health 3.0 and the over 100,000medical related websites in that class: 

  1. NIH found that 53.5% of patients use the Internet to findinformation and out of those individuals 59% do not discuss the issue withtheir doctor. Does the Internet and your peers really provide more usefulinformation or something else equally necessary?
  2. As boomersare prescribed more medications as they age they are relying on pharmaceuticalcompanies’ websites for information. How best can boomer caregivers, patientsand older adults meaningfully validate that information?
  3. Privacy – asboomers share more and more information over the Internet, trust, security and identitytheft looms as potential threats.
  4. Given themove to the web and Health 3.0 by the baby boomers for their and their family’shealth needs – two questions arise. First, what are the values they are gettingfrom the web that they are not getting from the current universe of providers,public and private payers, disease and health-related affinity groups, andothers in healthcare? Second, what are the new business opportunities in Health3.0 and how can these opportunities translate into better health outcomes for ageneration?
  5. Social Media is changingthe way individuals interact, how we spend our time, how much we trust eachother and regard privacy. Where social media was a tool to share lifestyleupdates and photographs, it is now the ‘go to’ platform for discussion and forserious, life-changing information about your life. How boomers integrate theirhealth and those they care for into this new media source is an evolvingphenomenon. Health information seeking is more than a behavior; it is adisruptive demographic force that is changing the roles of existing healthcare institutionsand professionals – opening the door to new players, products, services andinnovation.

    MIT AgeLab Research Assistant and MIT Sloan School of Management MBA student Rebecca Greenstein researched and co-authored this article.

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