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7/12/2012
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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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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."

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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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