A Daily Dose of Social Media: Just What the Doctor Ordered

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By Joanne Fischetti, Senior Account Executive, R&J Public Relations

Hospitals are always looking for the next best medical device or procedure to improve patient health and to stand above their competition.  But what about social media?  According to healthcare social media expert Ed Bennett, as of January 23, 2011, 906 hospitals in the United States were taking advantage of social networking tools, with that number increasing to 1,188 in early June.  Of those 1,188 hospitals, the predominant choice of social media has been Facebook (1018), with Four Square (913) and Twitter (788) not far behind.  YouTube Channels (548) and LinkedIn accounts (458) seem to be relatively popular as well, with blog posts (137) being least popular.

According to the American Hospital Association, there are 5,795 registered hospitals in the United States.  Why are less than half of the hospitals utilizing social media?

Violating HIPAA regulations seems to be one of the major concerns, which is ironic since doctors are actually more likely to violate HIPAA rules in an elevator than they are in a social media scenario.  While it’s true that verbal gaffes and social media blunders are both impossible to retract, teaching employees about the right way to handle social media (including how the policy also affects employees both at home and in the office) is an effective way to ensure that your healthcare facility is using social media the right way.

Another potential concern for hospitals is that their patients may share too much information on a social media platform, not just about any symptoms they may be displaying, but also about their feelings in favor (or against) a particular staff member or overall hospital experience.  An initial reaction may be to ignore the comment or defend your hospital, but that is the absolute worst thing that you can do.  Ignoring the post gives off the impression to other fans or followers that the hospital is hiding something, at fault or doesn’t care enough to address the problem.  But defending yourself in a public forum also gives off the wrong impression.

The best way to handle the situation? Steer the conversation offline.  First, acknowledge the post and then ask the patient to call the hospital and provide contact information. By handling the post this way, you are acknowledging that someone has an issue that you will address privately – and quickly.

In the end, social media isn’t scary.  With the right guidelines and training, social media can spread the good news that you want your audience to know about your hospital and staff.  Doctors can connect with patients.  Patients can learn about community events, new procedures, staff promotions, etc.  In addition, social media elevates a hospital’s online presence.

So what are you waiting for?  Your patients are already there – get out there and connect with them!

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