Health IT professionals are tapping into social media tools for marketing, for business development, for patient engagement, and for personal use, according to a Frost & Sullivan survey.

Nicole Lewis, Contributor

September 13, 2011

3 Min Read

Health IT Boosts Patient Care, Safety

Health IT Boosts Patient Care, Safety

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Slideshow: Health IT Boosts Patient Care, Safety

Eighty four percent of healthcare employees use social media for personal purposes, 75% use it for professional purposes within their institutions, and 68% use it for both personal and professional reasons. At least that's the conclusion suggested by a small Frost & Sullivan survey of healthcare employees.

The survey, which was conducted in conjunction with the Institute for Health Technology Transformation, solicited the social media habits of 63 healthcare workers, including IT professionals, administration professionals, and physicians.

The surveyed showed that among those who use social media for professional purposes, only one-third use it as a part of their professional obligations. Additionally, among the healthcare provider institutions--which were mostly hospitals but also physician practices and other non-hospital care environments that participants work for--one-third do not allow access to social media for employees, typically due to security issues and concerns about employees' productivity. The majority of institutions that allow access to social media apply some policies to control that access.

"The biggest surprise was that the use of social media within provider institutions is as pervasive as it is," Nancy Fabozzi, co-author of the report, told InformationWeek Healthcare. "Access to social media tools at work does not appear to be as restricted as we might have initially believed, given all the concerns about privacy and security that we've heard about. We assumed that more robust policies might have been in place that would have curtailed use at work."

The report noted that the most popular reason cited for the institutional use of various social media tools, such as Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn is related to marketing or brand awareness and business development purposes.

Nevertheless, Fabozzi, who is Frost & Sullivan's senior industry analyst covering healthcare, said there are many signs that point to a growing interest in using various social media tools for a variety of purposes related to healthcare.

As outlined in the report, while the strict rules related to patient privacy have stalled the use of social media among healthcare employees, the growing use of social media sites is a trend that has implications for healthcare organizations as they seek ways to improve communications with their patients.

According to the report, "there are signs in the market of building momentum and excitement around the potential for social media within healthcare institutions, particularly for areas outside of marketing and more specifically related to improving patient care."

To prove the point, Fabozzi observed that the Mayo Clinic, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and other leading hospitals are going beyond public relations with their social media efforts and expanding into the realm of patient engagement including education, compliance, and even clinical research.

"Another indication of the growing popularity of social media for issues related to patient care is the increasing number of professional organizations like the American Medical Association (AMA) that are formulating official policies. The federal government is also encouraging the proper use of social media for providers, for example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC's) Health Communicator's Social Media Toolkit, which offers guidance for sharing health information through social media."

Find out how health IT leaders are dealing with the industry's pain points, from allowing unfettered patient data access to sharing electronic records. Also in the new, all-digital issue of InformationWeek Healthcare: There needs to be better e-communication between technologists and clinicians. Download the issue now. (Free registration required.)

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