How Social Media Conversation Is Transforming Healthcare During Pandemic

Social media users mobilised resources and citizen groups to the aid of the thousands of frantic, worried and confused people with family members in dire need of medical help but no clear way to go about it.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been ravaging in nature right from its onset, and it continues to do so. India has unfortunately been among the worst-hit countries worldwide and there has been extensive coverage about how the country has struggled to meet the unprecedented demand for medical care amid limited resources and a crumbling infrastructure. However, the one pattern that has been noticeable among the all-pervading gloom is conversation on social media about the disease and all things related.

How India mobilised the power of social media to combat the COVID-19 surge In as early as May 2020, India was among the five nations with the highest volume of social media conversations about COVID-19. Then came 2021 and along with it, the cataclysmic second wave of the pandemic. The daily count of cases shot up to as high as over 4 lakh cases during the peak. But for many, the pandemic will always be synonymous with the time when the entire country came together to help each other, albeit virtually. What people could not do in person, they achieved over social media conversations – selflessly helping complete strangers at a time of need.

Social media users mobilised resources and citizen groups to the aid of the thousands of frantic, worried, and confused people with family members in dire need of medical help but no clear way to go about it. Tweets and retweets using hashtags like #CovidEmergency and #CovidSOS helped spread the word and lend a much-needed hand to patients and caregivers who desperately needed those limited hospital beds, medicines and medical equipment.

The other social media platforms played a significant role too. Celebrities and influencers collaborated with NGOs and appealed to their followers on Instagram to help those in need; people offered meal services, grocery shopping, and other help via Facebook; and Google Docs as well as Sheets came handy to create and share lists about the availability of hospital beds, numbers of doctors and mental health professionals, and other updated information. There have even been cases of people signing up on Tinder and similar platforms just to find plasma donors!

Healthcare trends brought about by COVID-19

Healthcare is quite a hands-on, tangible process. However, at a time when the world is battling an extremely contagious air-borne disease, it becomes crucial for even this industry to shift things to the digital platform. This is important keeping the safety of both healthcare professionals and patients in mind – and it seems like the shift has already been set in motion. Right from the start of the pandemic, social media has been used extensively to disseminate information about preventive measures, what to do in case of symptoms, side effects of the disease, where to seek medical help, and other related factors. Given how convenient this was to reach out to a huge number of people, it can safely be assumed that this trend can spill over to non-Covid healthcare too. Things like digital patient-doctor engagement, quicker and on-demand services as well as digitalised documentation of patient records might become the norm in the near future, even across smaller cities and towns.

This transformation is also noticeable in the growth and popularity of the many health apps and start-ups. While myUpchar makes crucial healthcare information available in various Indian languages, Tattvan E-clinic uses their social media pages and a reliable telemedicine clinics network to connect patients in small towns to specialist medical professionals in bigger cities. Practo primarily uses Facebook to educate users on various health-related topics. There are several other apps leveraging social media to reach people all over the country.

How social media conversations can help the healthcare industry

The big questions are – can conversations on social media be taken as a new research tool for the healthcare and pharmaceutical sector? Can social media have a positive impact on public healthcare? The answer to both these questions is a resounding ‘Yes’! After all, the end goal is the greater good, and if the pandemic is anything to go by, digital is the future.

COVID-19 has affected people in different ways, be it physical or mental. Online platforms are where a large chunk of people has been uninhibited about sharing their health issues, feelings, and insights. This has dual benefits: others who have been going through similar issues find that they are not alone, while professionals in the healthcare sector get a deeper look into the many issues people are experiencing, side effects of illnesses, what medicines helped, and so on. Social listening is the key here, as social media intelligence gathered from such online conversations can give doctors and pharma companies an unbiased insight into anything and everything related to healthcare. This information can then be used for further research, finding solutions to unique issues faced by patients and even developing new medication.

Pharma and related brands can chalk out a digital strategy to be more responsive and engaging across their social media channels, add tags on posts to make it easier for people to find relevant posts, and ensure regular publishing of informative content. Moreover, organisations can use social media as an effective tool to raise public health awareness while debunking popular myths and fighting misinformation. Studies have also found social media to be a positive influence on public health.

We may perhaps never be able to forget those haunting images of grieving family members screaming for help in overflowing hospital wards. But maybe, just maybe this will bring about a seismic shift in healthcare and make it more immediate and accessible to all. When used in a prudent manner, social media can be an indispensable tool and online dialog during the pandemic has just confirmed that.

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