Analysis of more than two million online health-related conversations highlights varied approaches to health care

February 26, 2013

American Voices - Aligned for Health

OAKLAND, Calif. — Kaiser Permanente has released the results of a new data analysis focused on how physicians, health reporters and policymakers talk about health. The analysis found significant differences among the three groups studied, underscoring a need for greater alignment among key influencers around pertinent health issues impacting Americans. The data will be presented today at an expert panel discussion event sponsored by Kaiser Permanente’s Institute for Health Policy. The event, “American Voices — Aligned for Health,” will be held at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Total Health in Washington, DC.

The online data analysis — which examined millions of health care-related Tweets, online articles and online posts by 3,200 online physicians, 458 members of the U.S. Congress and 154 journalists — looked at qualitative and quantitative differences among the stories reported in the media and discussed in policy circles compared to those that physicians discussed online. They were then evaluated with widely cited patient-oriented reports such as the Pew Internet and American Life Project’s Health Online 2013 report. The results showed differences in focus on various health issues among these groups.

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As an example, physicians’ online conversations focused on high-risk/low-effort prevention behaviors — such as using sunscreen, washing hands and eating well — 67 percent more than those of media and 483 percent more than those of Congress members, while Congress and the media focused on policy-related issues — such as insurance and reimbursement — at least 70 percent more than physicians did. Overall, the online data showed that physicians prioritized health education, while media were more focused on the business of health, and Members of Congress discussed the legislative, judicial, and administrative policies of health.

“Nearly eight out of ten health seekers use a search engine when researching health issues online. Performing these types of searches can lead people down a path that may reassure them, but they can also confuse and even scare people,” said Rahul K. Parikh, MD, FAAP, (@parikhmd), associate physician-in-chief, The Permanente Medical Group. “It is the responsibility of all physicians using social media to deliver accurate and easy-to-understand information so that consumers can make informed decisions about their health and the health of their loved ones. Social media offers the physician community a great opportunity to share knowledge, but it is essential that we are thoughtful in how we use this communication channel to contribute to the health and well-being of the general public.”

The “American Voices — Aligned for Health” panel comprises representatives from the physician, health media, policy and patient communities. The discussion will focus on identifying ways to better align online conversations around the health stories that are most impactful for the American public, in order to help patients feel more confident that they are benefiting from clear and accurate information online and to help them more easily find the conversations that are most relevant to them.

“As a good example, the analysis found that physicians talked a tremendous amount about non-pharmaceutical treatment interventions, including health tips and lifestyle medicine, whereas health reporters focused significantly more on new drug approvals and milestones,” said Robert M. Pearl, MD, executive director and CEO of The Permanente Medical Group. “We’re not saying that we should listen to one or the other or suggesting that any of the groups is right or wrong — all are appropriately focused on different aspects of health care for legitimate reasons. However, it’s our belief and hope that effectively aligning key influencers around the health stories that are most beneficial for the American public could improve health literacy and, ultimately, our nation’s overall health.”

About the Analysis

The data analysis, conducted online in December 2012 by WCG, analyzed 2.3 million health care-related Tweets by online physicians that linked to 218,934 online articles and posts, 464,272 health care-related Tweets by members of Congress that linked to 71,606 online articles and posts, and 132,108 health care-related Tweets by journalists that linked to 36,300 journalist-written articles.

Physician conversations were collected from WCG’s MDigitalLife database that scanned 3,200 U.S. physicians’ Tweets. Congressional conversations were collected from the 458 members of the 112th U.S. Congress that have Twitter accounts. Health care journalist conversations were collected from a media list of 154 individuals writing for business, newswire, technology, political and health care trade publications.

Conversations were then compared among the three groups in pairs: media/physicians, physicians/Congress, and media/Congress. Topics and themes analyzed included diseases and disorders as collected from and health-related topics as collected from samples of physician, media and Congress Tweets. Five specific topics selected by Kaiser Permanente were also analyzed for similarities and differences among the three groups.

To view a presentation on the underlying data, visit

About Kaiser Permanente

About Kaiser Permanente Kaiser Permanente is committed to helping shape the future of health care. We are recognized as one of America’s leading health care providers and not-for-profit health plans. Founded in 1945, our mission is to provide high-quality, affordable health care services and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve. We currently serve 8.6 million members in nine states and the District of Columbia. Care for members and patients is focused on their total health and guided by their personal physicians, specialists and team of caregivers. Our expert and caring medical teams are empowered and supported by industry-leading technology advances and tools for health promotion, disease prevention, state-of-the art care delivery and world-class chronic disease management. Kaiser Permanente is dedicated to care innovations, clinical research, health education and the support of community health. For more information, go to:

About WCG

About WCG Led by Chairman and CEO Jim Weiss, WCG is an independent company focused on integrated corporate and product marketing and communications for some of the world’s leading companies, with offices in San Francisco, New York, Austin, Los Angeles, and London. Over the past 10 years, WCG has received numerous industry awards, including “2011 Digital Agency of the Year,” and “2011 Global Healthcare Agency of the Year.” WCG currently works with more than 60 of the top healthcare brands worldwide, from pharmaceuticals and medical devices to overall corporate presence. The company’s seasoned professionals specialize in social media analytics, online strategy, branding, design, digital and traditional marketing, corporate and product PR, media, investor and advocacy relations, clinical trial recruitment and grassroots direct-to-patient communications campaigns. For more information, please visit, follow WCG on Twitter @WCGWORLD, find WCG on Facebook, read WCG’s CommonSense Blog, or watch WCG on YouTube.