Healthcare // Patient Tools
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7/12/2012
02:34 PM
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Healthcare Social Media: Time To Get On Board

Many hospitals and practices still hesitate to jump on board the social media bandwagon. Here's some practical advice to guide your organization through the decision process.
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We humans are such social creatures. We band together to protect ourselves from a common enemy, we contribute food and clothing to the needy after a storm, and of course we tailgate to cheer on our favorite NFL team. Given this propensity to congregate, it comes as no surprise to see social media explode in the last several years.

By one estimate, 69% of active Web users--about 152 million people--visit Facebook at least once a month, and 62% of adult Internet users visit social networking sites of all sorts, according to Eliza, a healthcare communications vendor that specializes in patient engagement. Narrowing the figures down to health-related issues, Eliza says almost one out of every four social network users have followed their friends' personal health experiences or updates.

Obviously, social media is no passing fad, and healthcare providers who ignore this cultural phenomenon do so at their own peril, for at least two reasons: It's likely that the hospital or practice down the street is already working on a social media strategy, so you remain at a significant disadvantage if you keep your head in the sand. Equally important, several key federal IT regulations insist on more patient engagement--including the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' Stage 2 Meaningful Use--and social media outlets are one of the best ways to engage patients.

But while some healthcare provider organizations have successfully navigated these waters, there are all sorts of undercurrents to watch out for.

Ernie Hood, senior director, research and insights for the Advisory Board Company, says that "usage issues" are more of a concern than direct technical problems. In a recent interview with InformationWeek Healthcare, Hood said potential stumbling blocks include understaffing of the social media effort; clumsy use, namely using the wrong social media tools; and not managing your message so that it's consistent across the organization.

Hood also had some good advice for CIOs: "We advise that they not try to lead the social media efforts but that they get in front by using it themselves and by encouraging others to leverage social media."

To help you through the decision-making process, our slideshow profiles how a major health system and a physician-practice are using social media. It also sums up advice from a HIMSS expert, a legal authority, and a nurse informatics specialist on the subject. And finally, we'll explore how two of the biggest social media networks designed for physicians are faring.

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Tim Pacileo
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Tim Pacileo,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/18/2012 | 5:13:53 PM
re: Healthcare Social Media: Time To Get On Board
Social Media is a real game changer for most healthcare marketers, but not in the sense that many of us think of when it comes to social media benefits. Social Media actually impacts the cultural and lifestyle of the hospital marketer which in turn drives this reluctance to change.

Once a hospital goes live with social media it's no longer about pushing out messaging and developing campaigns in a 9-5 setting. When a hospital goes "live" with social media they can't turn it off, it runs 7 X 24 X 365 in real time. Someone needs to monitor the sites and be able to respond to inquires as the expectations from the users are to have quick responses to their messages. If there are negative comments on the social sites many of the hospitals have not even thought about how to respond. In fact I heard comments such that "If we don't go social then we don't have to worry about it". Clearly this is a flawed approach as we know people will post their comments on other sites and in most cases the hospital will not be aware of the comments, until the press or some other entity brings it to their attention. It's much better to have the sites up and listen then it is to get blindsided.

As for the security and HIPAA concerns, again I am not seeing many hospitals with social media policies in place and they need to have them even if they have not set up their corporate sites. Any hospital employee, nurse and/or physician that is active on a social media site should be following the guidelines and policies of the hospital, but if these don't exist they actually put the hospital at risk and in some cases the employee, nurse or physician are at risk as well both personally and professionally. In one quick example a nurse who was very active on her social media site had a patient who would not ask her for a data in person, found out on her Facebook page that she was single and asked her out on Facebook. Having the proper policies in place could have prevented this from occurring.

Nest we have an accountability concern because everything in the digital world can be managed, monitored and modified for ROI. It's not like in the good old days when one sent out thousands of postcards and hoped for a 2% response rate, or they ran an ad and if it didn't get the results they ran the same ad again. In the online world you can run an ad for a few days and if it's not working, you can change it on the fly to improve the results or re-target it to a different audience. There is much more flexibility tied to these solutions to drive better results and more impact for the brand and there also is more work because of it.

Today the online world of marketing is disrupting how many of the hospital leadership teams and supporting marketing teams promote their brand or services/specialties and they are not thoroughly convinced that online marketing will drive the benefits they seek, despite all the information and statistics to support this transition. There is also the concern of even more transparency and accountability and a new set of tools and solutions not just in social media but in digital marketing, mobile marketing and Big Data that all impact hospital marketing.

Social media and online marketing are gaining momentum and growing in importance to the healthcare marketer. It's not too late to get on the train and embrace the change, but you need to be able to move quickly as this change is accelerating.

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