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Understanding the Three Types of Social Patients

Sarah Morgan

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Our friends at New Solutions Factory shared a copy with us of their recent report on “social patients,” surveying 42 people who had one of four conditions: fibromyalgia, hemophilia, multiple sclerosis or asthma. Though the study was small, the findings are worth noting for marketers exploring how best to reach patients living with chronic conditions.

Their main conclusion was that social patients could be sorted into three types:

Proactive Sharers. 

  • Who are they? Fifty-two percent fell into this category and were very likely to share information provided to them by manufacturers. Fully 75 percent of this group self-report themselves to be influential.
  • What do they do? They research online, engage with their physicians, and use online and offline support groups in addition to social media. They also rely on the Internet — versus social media, HCPs or peers — for information.
  • How do they feel? According to New Solutions Factory, their general philosophy was that they believed patients needed more information about their conditions and that they were in a position to make a difference to that end. 
  • What do they want? They’re interested in all of the latest information, including symptom management and speculative material on treatments that might work. 

Skeptical Sharers.

  • Who are they? This middle group, comprising 31 percent, would be somewhat likely to share information. Sixty-two percent of this cohort self-report themselves as influencers. 
  • What do they do? Their behavior is similar to the proactive sharers, though they are more likely to do deeper research, investigating medical journals for data and case studies. Like their proactive peers, they also rely on the Internet — versus social media, HCPs or other patients — for information.
  • How do they feel? Drug companies are a necessary evil to this group; they don’t really trust them, but might share their information if it was concise and believable. 
  • What do they want? These patients want credible information from vetted physicians, patients and peer-reviewed medical journals.


  • Who are they? These are the minority (17 percent) who said they would be unlikely to share manufacturer information. Only 18 percent report themselves to be influential. 
  • What do they do? They seem to rely on blogs and message boards for success stories, and they’re far more likely to go to social media for their news than to the Internet, doctors or peers.  
  • How do they feel? They are not interested in information from pharma. They believe companies are out to sell, not help. 
  • What do they want? They seek out information on alternative treatments, dietary and lifestyle modifications, and other non-medic
  • Who are they? This middle group, comprising 31 percenal intervention options. 

Limitations and conclusions
Because the study was small, it doesn’t necessarily predict all patients with all conditions. However, it’s interesting to see the different behavior of patient cohorts and their attitudes toward the pharmaceutical industry, and some findings were consistent across all groups. Perhaps surprisingly, email was overwhelmingly the most-desired way to receive information from companies (78 percent), with direct mail second at 37 percent. 

New Solutions Factory offers the full presentation on the study here


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