Social Media: The Bandwagon Hospitals, Doctors and Everyone in Healthcare Needs to Jump On

Andrea-SimonIt comes as no surprise that everyone, everywhere, is using social media. What is surprising, however, is how unevenly it’s being adopted in the healthcare industry. To some extent, the time is past when doctors were afraid of digital technology. Savvy ones now text their patients information, track diseases through Twitter, identify health trends on Facebook and communicate with patients through email. These sophisticated users feel as though they are extending the medical community. But although this high-user trend is increasing, most physicians are still learning how to use social media to its full potential. For these doctors, online physician communities are proving to be effective places for bolstering their learning.

A recent article in Social Media Today, “Doctors Use Social Media to Connect with Patients,” states that physicians see the benefits of social media but many are still cautious to dive in due to concerns about confidentiality, patient privacy and liability. Clearly, those health care facilities which are not using social media are missing out on cultivating more patients.

The statistics are even more revealing

Your Patients May Depend on Social Media,” an article on Hospital Impact’s website, reveals that approximately 41% of patients choose their healthcare provider based on social media. Physicians, take note: People are sharing their experiences through social media, both good and bad. The article states that 44% of people will share a good experience and 40% will share a bad one. To manage their reputations, their practices, and their “brand,” today’s healthcare providers need to effectively respond to all comments, both positive and negative.

Similar statistics are offered in the HealthWorks Collective article “Social Media in Healthcare: How to Harness the Marketing Opportunity,” showing that 58% of teaching hospitals are using social media, compared with only 16% of non-teaching hospitals. Social media creates a valuable avenue ─ a crucial one, really ─ for building and maintaining an image through posts, pictures, events, testimonials, success stories and comments.

Who is paving the way?

As we saw while conducting our last three studies of U.S. hospitals’ use of social media, children’s hospitals and specialty hospitals continue to use social media to its fullest, way ahead of the pack. These two entities listen to people’s needs, provide information from physicians, include customer services, and look for ways to improve their entire framework of healthcare delivery. What’s more, they exploit Facebook with great success, posting pictures and videos, holding contests, spotlighting moms and babies, congratulating employees, and imparting useful information.

Patients want a lot from social media

In a HealthWorks Collective survey, people are energetically searching for new ways to use social media. Of those surveyed, 72% would like to book appointments on a social media site, 71% would like to get a reminder of an appointment, and 70% would like to be able to get a referral through social media. Respondents want Facebook to offer motivational posts, and information and knowledge of health issues. They also want social media in general to communicate when doctors are accepting new patients and ways to contact them after hours. Also request: information about what to expect when preparing to have a baby or when having a procedure done.

Hospitals can also get a lot out of social media

When healthcare facilities choose to get on board the social media bandwagon, it’s nothing but win-win. They can see what services people are looking for. They can provide patient-trusted information posted by physicians. They can also be alerted to areas that need improvement. In addition, social media gives hospitals the opportunity to shape the way patients see them, such as being “green” or state-of-the-art. By responding to posts, they can show that they are caring, kind and compassionate, as well as responsive to patient problems.

Social media is risky business, which needs to be addressed

Boston Children’s Hospital, one of the hospitals in our study that’s at the forefront of social media use, has a disclaimer readily available on its Facebook page that says the following:

“We welcome and encourage open discussion on Children’s Hospital Boston’s social media sites – including but not limited to our blogs, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube pages and online story-sharing forums – and look forward to any comments, stories and experiences you want to share.

That said, we do make reasonable efforts to monitor participation to ensure that you stay on topic, are courteous and avoid making offensive comments. Please remember that information posted on any of our social media platforms shouldn’t be considered medical advice and shouldn’t replace a consultation with a health care professional.

Please be aware that once you post something online, there’s the potential for thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of people to read your words, even years from now. As a result, we suggest that you exercise caution when posting medical information on any of our social media sites and that you not disclose personal identifiable information like your location, medical record number, financial information, etc.”

Boston Children’s disclaimer reminds people who are posting or reading comments that they are engaging with a social media platform, not consulting a physician.

There is still a lot of concern about using Facebook and Twitter for medical information

The medical website Medscape, in the article “Social Media Use by Physicians Can Spur Medical Board Action,” states that physicians need to remember that even though they are posting on a social media site (for professional or personal use) ─ not a medical site ─ they still need to follow confidentially rules. According to the Medscape article, 81% of 48 executive directors of medical boards who responded to a survey reported that they knew of cases where social media portrayed misleading information about clinical trials; 79% had seen postings of pictures without patient consent; 77% were aware of physicians inappropriately contacting a patient via social media; and 73% witnessed breached patient confidentiality. Somewhat reassuringly, a low percentage of the executive directors reported being aware of physicians posting offensive speech, or knew of postings of images depicting alcohol use. Tellingly, 71% of all state medical boards have been involved in at least one case involving social media problems.

Serious regulation of social media is needed

Since patients, doctors and hospitals are all increasingly using social media, it seems obvious that some serious regulation of social media sites is needed. In addition, training and professional development programs need to be established, and soon, to help guide the healthcare industry in ways to use social media to its fullest, and safest, potential.