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.