Social Media in Healthcare: Why Instagram is its Best Kept Secret

Social Media in Healthcare

Instagram, the lesser known tool behind social media in healthcare and widespread photo sharing social platform, has an average of 500 million monthly active users and growing. The applications of this platform are endless, but it’s proving to be a fruitful podium for the healthcare industry.  Whether Instagram is providing future medical students the opportunity to follow physicians who share images of their practice to get a glimpse into the profession, helping hospitals and health systems reach a larger patient population or foster a sense of community through the promotion of a cause, healthcare has its eye on Instagram.

Hospitals Get into the ‘Gram

Tennessee hospitals gained a lot of attention on Instagram this year when the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt in Nashville received a star-studded welcome with singer Taylor Swift joining Ryan Seacrest for his studio opening at the hospital. St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis has an ongoing partnership with Lancome’s Hand Heart campaign to raise awareness and funds for the leading treatment center of childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases. By supporting the fundraising efforts digitally, the campaign was able to reach a larger audience to celebrate “moments of happiness.” Lancome asked its 145K followers to Instagram “hand hearts” with a dedicated hashtag #LancomeLovesStJude and the brand would make a $1 donation to St. Jude in their honor.

Tackling Self-Harm and Suicide

Recently, Instagram unveiled a reporting and support tool to help users at-risk for self-harm and suicide. The tool lets followers anonymously flag posts and the user is sent a support message offering help. Instagram worked with mental health experts and groups like the National Eating Disorders Association, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline,, and patients who are experienced with this type of behavior to ensure the prompt language was accurate, yet not intimidating. In addition to the launch of this new tool, Instagram also partnered with Seventeen Magazine on a campaign focused on increasing positive body image and self-confidence, to honor National Body Confidence Day. The hashtag #PerfectlyMe was promoted to encourage people to accept and embrace their bodies – and each other –  while building self-confidence.

Affordable Care Act

More than 48 million users on Instagram are millennials. Insurers have their eyes on this technology-savvy group of young adults because even though they have a relatively low use of health benefits, they still opt to pay high deductible health plans. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced that they chose to extend marketing of the Affordable Care Act insurance plans to Instagram (also YouTube and Facebook) as a way to increase enrollment among the young invincibles without insurance. CMS said that the team planned to run image and video ads on Instagram as a vehicle to reach the 60 percent of all millennial smartphone users monthly that are on Instagram.

A Picture is Worth…

Dr. Sandra Lee, or better known as “Dr. Pimple Popper” has amassed an Instagram audience of about 2.1 million followers who are addicted to watching her extract blackheads, lipomas or cysts. While most of her Instagram followers find the videos entertaining, the account is a destination for educational and informative videos of dermatological procedures.  If you’re not squeamish or currently eating, check her out on Instagram @drpimplepopper.


Even though the pharmaceutical industry has been reluctant to establish a social media presence given the lack of guidance from the FDA, Boehringer Ingelheim was the first pharmaceutical company to join Instagram in 2013. Since then we’ve begun to see other major players like Genentech, Eli Lilly, Pfizer and Novartis build their Instagram presence with visual narratives. Also, with the recent introduction of Instagram Stories that disappear after 24 hours and not allowing public comments on Stories, the need for private messages serve as a better patient support tool by pharma to take things out of the public eye. Now more than ever is the time for the pharmaceutical industry to embrace Instagram into their social media in healthcare marketing strategy.

Whether it’s providing continuing education on fundraising efforts, awareness campaigns, support tools or crowdsourcing an image, these are only a handful of ways social media in healthcare, Instagram specifically, is being used to connect with patients and the community.

Theresa Masnik
Account Manager

Work at SHIFT

Posted on November 18, 2016 in Healthcare, Marketing, Social Media

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