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Published October 4th 2017

How Can Healthcare Services & Pharmaceutical Companies Use Social Data?

Becky Jones describes the many and varied ways healthcare services can harness the power of social media data to better their offerings.

Globally, the healthcare industry is continuously evolving and improving. There are regular advances in developing new medicines, technologies, diagnosis tools and medical knowledge.

But can health services improve even more using social data?

Using Brandwatch Analytics I will demonstrate the possible use cases of social data for different healthcare services. I will be using data sources from all around the web.

A stethoscope and pen resting on an open book

Tracking Conversation

For all healthcare services, it is important to be informed when making funding, investment and general planning decisions.

To improve these decisions, healthcare services can use social data to monitor what the general public think is important.

Using Brandwatch Analytics I created categories for some of the most commonly talked about health problems to monitor the spread of conversation.

This is the data for UK for the past year.

A bar chart showing prominent topics of health conversation in the UK. Mental health is the largest bar, with cancer second.

There’s some cross over with the US.

A bar chart showing prominent topics of health-related conversation in the US. Cancer is the largest bar, mental health is the second tallest.

While the US has many more mentions than the UK, the share of voice each health problem receives is different in some places. For example, obesity is more prominent in the US conversation than in the UK, while diabetes is more prominent in the UK conversation than in the US.

This data can be drilled into further, looking at specific counties and states, so local services can keep an eye on prominent topics of health conversation in their area.

Utilizing the data

This data is important for healthcare services because by monitoring what the public care and talk about the decision makers get more information and context.

Trending illnesses could indicate particular outbreaks or concerns for healthcare services to respond to by putting more resources into dealing with a spreading health problem or to help correct misconceptions.

In this way, health care services can improve by directly addressing what people are talking about, adapting to fit the needs of the public and improving public perception where appropriate.


To exemplify the use cases of social data for healthcare services, I have picked a health problem to demonstrate with.

As mental health issues are widely discussed in both the US and UK, I selected schizophrenia as an example.

Using Brandwatch Analytics we can take a look at the general online conversation surrounding schizophrenia using topic clouds.  

A topic cloud showing prominent topics of conversation surrounding schizophrenia.


We can use social data to analyze the online conversation surrounding the symptoms for certain health problems.

I researched the most common symptoms of schizophrenia (psychosis, prodromal, behavioural change, thought disorder, delusion and hallucination) and made categories for each group.

A pie chart shows the ways different symptoms of schizophrenia are discussed online. Psychosis is the largest segment.

A psychotic episode is possibly the most drastic and debilitating aspect of schizophrenia  which possibly explains why it is the most talked about.  

In this case, healthcare services could make information on coping with psychotic episodes more readily available.


We can also use social data to analyze the discussion around treatments for specific health problems. My research shows there are multiple kinds of treatment for schizophrenia being discussed online.  

For the sake of this example, I have included two forms of medical treatment (first-generation and second-generation antipsychotic drugs), psychological treatment and also general support (e.g. social workers, counselling, nurses).

A pie chart showing the share of voice of various schizophrenia treatments. Support is the largest segment.

From my research and knowledge, I expected the medication side of the treatment to be the most discussed as medications are the “cornerstone” in controlling symptoms of schizophrenia.

However, the results show that the most widely discussed treatment is the support aspect of schizophrenia. Support, in this case, is categorized as social workers, psychosocial therapy, counselling etc.

We can also examine the time frame of discussion surrounding treatment.

A line chart tracking mentions of schizophrenia treatments over time

The data shows that in the past year conversation surrounding first-generation antipsychotics has decreased, whereas mentions of psychological treatment has increased in mentions over the year.

Mentions of support treatment remained consistently high, peaking in May.

Second-generation antipsychotics peaked in February, possibly due to pharmaceutical company BOC releasing new products for the treatment of schizophrenia.

This would be useful data for BOC to measure the success of this product launch.


We can also use social data to analyze the different people behind the conversation

As well as with the general public, social data can be used to measure conversation generated by specific groups, like health professionals.

A line graph shows how much different healthcare professionals discuss schizophrenia. Doctors appear most vocal.

People who identify as doctors speak the most about schizophrenia, although this is possibly because a psychiatrist may also define themselves as a doctor.

We can also measure the topics that healthcare professionals talk the most about compared to the general public. In this case, I have compared the symptoms healthcare professionals talk about.

A bar chart showing how various healthcare professionals discuss symptoms of schizophrenia. Results discussed below.

The public talk the most about psychosis, but within the healthcare professional conversation psychosis is spoken about far less.

Instead, all the healthcare professionals write the most about thought disorder as a symptom.

Healthcare professionals also talk more about the prodromal stage. The prodromal stage is an early sign which indicates the possible onset of a disease.

3. Sites

We can also use social data to monitor where the conversation around schizophrenia is based.

This may be useful for healthcare services to get information out through ads where there is a lot of related conversation.

A list of popular sites where schizophrenia is discussed, including forum.schizophrenia.com, Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr.


So how can healthcare services use social data?  

Social data give us the opportunity to uniquely track and collate conversations in public spaces like Twitter as well as anonymous posts on forums.

A cartoon of people discussing different health-related things. For example, a bubbling test tube, a hyperdermic needle, a heart rate, a set of lungs.

Social data allows charities, pharmaceutical companies and healthcare services to collectively measure specific social perceptions of an illness.

This is invaluable information for healthcare service providers to aid research and investment decisions, monitor stigma, learn about treatment preferences and look at different authors perceptions.

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