How Hospitals Use Social Media to Connect with Patients and Physicians Alike
What do Sutter Eden Medical Center, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and the Mayo Clinic have in common? Social media! These medical facilities and countless others have all started using Facebook, live surgical Twitter-casts, and YouTube to get the word out about their facilities. In fact, this form of communication might very well change the way hospitals do business.
Implementing a social media program
If your facility is ready to tackle social media, there are a few steps you need to take. First, make sure you augment your website with a blog. This will help you gain experience with social media by engaging with patients and others in a controlled setting. For instance, take note of:
- How many people visit your blog,
- The number of positive vs. negative comments you receive, and
- What types of issues tend to interest your visitors.
Consider working with a search engine optimization (SEO) expert to help you index your blog so it shows up on the first page of Web searches for your community. In addition, be ready to eventually promote your hospital’s blog on other social media platforms.
The next step is to designate someone to take the lead in building your hospital’s social media capabilities. It’s so important that you commit the resources (including personnel) necessary to maintain an up-to-date social media presence. The more frequently a social media account or a blog is refreshed with new content, the more likely that your visitors will return. In addition, make sure you develop metrics that can help you measure the site’s success and return on investment from your activities.
It’s also important that you view social media as a set of tools (such as direct mail or advertising) to help achieve your facility’s business model objectives, not as a strategy unto itself. The difference is that advertising can be quite expensive, and it delivers messages to large audiences, many of which have no interest in the organization or its services. On the other hand, social media messages go out only to those consumers or patients who have a keen interest in a particular hospital, and at a much lower cost.
Even if you start with just a website and blog, you’ll gain a ton of experience by engaging with consumers in a controlled setting. Once you’ve got that down, you can build onto the website and blog as needed.
Understanding the differences
Make sure you establish a formal presence on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. Be prepared to delete any inappropriate comments and block those who are behaving rudely or are clearly only interested in causing trouble (commonly known as “trolls”).
As you seek to build a body of Twitter followers, YouTube subscribers and Facebook friends, experiment with the best uses for each. For instance, if you have a library of video and audio recordings, these would be best suited for YouTube.
Facebook is geared more toward longer messages as well as videos and photos. For example, post links to or upload PDFs of printed materials — such as press releases or media articles on clinical breakthroughs, awards or new facilities. Also consider adding photos of charitable events and staff gatherings.
If you want to push brief “breaking news” type notices, Twitter is “your man.” For instance, you might tweet “Recent survey indicates our hospital has the highest patient satisfaction rate in the state,” and then accompany the message with a hyperlink to the survey data.
Bottom line: Understand that social media should be viewed as a set of tools, similar to advertising or direct mail — and that it’s meant to help achieve your hospital’s strategic objectives.
Before you get too excited about social media, remember this: HIPAA has placed limits on the way your hospital can answer questions on patients’ health over a social network. So make sure you abide by those rules and use common sense as you engage in social media.
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