By the end of 2011, one billion consumers were online using social media. But only 21% of hospitals were using social media in the United States, according to Brad Tritle, chair of social media work group, which is part of the HIMSS personal health IT task force. "Hospitals like to communicate but they weren't going where the people were, similar with physicians," Tritle told InformationWeek Healthcare. He said that most hospitals start using social media from a marketing standpoint. "But we're finding that those [hospitals] that are more effective and are attracting more people are doing more patient education, community education, and from that using customer relationship management (CRM) tools." He said that some hospitals are seeing a return on investment (ROI) for doing that kind of engagement.
Smith and White Hospital in Texas, for example, turned to Twitter and Facebook when the phone system went down during the Fort Hood shootings a few years ago. "Hospitals are using social media for marketing, patient education, and for disaster communications," according to Tritle, who also said that among the major barriers to social media adoption are concerns about privacy and security. He added that healthcare personnel need to know that there are boundaries. "These are tools that you can use and you should not, for example, share personal health information online," said Tritle. He adds that hospitals should lay out guidelines about how to correctly insert social media into existing standard employee agreements and HIPAA agreements.
Tritle's take home message: "Social media, when utilized appropriately, can be a great channel for communication and education. We encourage it, we think that it's going to benefit the HIMSS members by becoming active in social media."