Healthcare News & Insights

Using social media effectively in health care: A 5-step plan

A lot has been written about the benefits of social media for patients. But how can healthcare providers benefit from social networking sites, and how can they tap into that potential? 

In nearly all industries, social networks are being used for marketing purposes, and health care is no different. Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites give hospitals and practices a new way to reach out to current and potential patients.

Surveys have shown that people are turning to the web, including social media, to help them make decisions about their care. Among 1,000 patients surveyed last year by the Health Research Institute at PwC:

  1. One-third use sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to seek medical information, track and share symptoms, and share their opinions about doctors and treatments
  2. 42% have used social media to find reviews of doctors and treatments, and
  3. 29% have sought information about other patients’ experiences with a condition.

As more patients turn to social networks to research providers, a social media presence is becoming essential for healthcare organizations that want to attract new patients.

Like in other industries, many patients use a provider’s social media interactions as a way to judge the organization’s quality and the satisfaction of its current patients.

And they may be onto something, according to a recent study published in the American Journal of Medical Quality.

For the study, researchers looked at information from 40 hospitals in the New York City area, including clinical data and information from the organizations’ Facebook pages.

The conclusion: The number of “likes” the hospitals had on their Facebook pages correlated with measures of quality and patient satisfaction.

For every 93 Facebook likes a hospital had, researchers saw a corresponding 1% decrease in 30-day mortality rates.

In addition, the more likes a page had, the more likely patients were to recommend the organization to others.

Keys for effective social media use

However, taking advantage of social networking sites takes more than setting up a page and forgetting about it. Some social media activities have a greater impact than others.

Experts offer these tips to healthcare providers to develop an effective social media presence:

1. Educate potential patients

When people turn to the web for health-related information, they’re most often researching specific conditions or treatments. Therefore, experts say, one of the most effective ways to reach potential patients on social media sites is to offer educational materials around a variety of health issues.

That can include quick wellness tips, links to blog posts written around an issue or videos in which doctors discuss a certain health-related topic. In addition to getting people’s attention, that strategy helps to establish the organization as a place potential patients can turn to for help.

2. Encourage discussion

A good social media presence will allow patients to share their own stories, regarding either their experience with the organization, or just their general experience with a certain health issue. The latter is helpful because patients often turn to social media to connect with other’s dealing with similar conditions.

And allowing patients to share their experience with the organization will most likely result in a number of positive reviews being posted to the page.

3. Train everyone to use social networks safely

Despite the benefits, social networks can also create some additional risks for healthcare providers. Most importantly, using those sites improperly could result in privacy violations or severe damage to the organization’s reputation.

That’s why it’s important to train everyone who will have access to the provider’s social networking page in the best ways to use social networking safely. That training should include the rules on what is and isn’t appropriate to post – i.e., no patient photos or other identifying information.

4. Use social media to learn

It isn’t just patients who can learn a lot by using social networks – doctors can also turn to those sites to improve their knowledge or get advice on handling specific problems.

In one survey conducted by QuantiaMD and Care Continuum Alliance, 4,033 doctors said they were interested in using social networks to:

  1. Learn from experts and peers (cited by 92% of respondents)
  2. Discuss clinical issues (90%)
  3. Discuss practice management challenges (87%)
  4. Share knowledge and expertise with others (84%)
  5. Get advice regarding specific patients and issues (80%)
  6. Develop a referral network (79%), and
  7. Coordinate care team interactions (75%).

5. Use social networks to improve care

In addition to attracting patients and sharing knowledge, providers can also use social networking sites to improve care outcomes for patients. For example, many patients with chronic illnesses can benefit by using social networks to connect with others dealing with the same conditions.

For those patients, it’s often best to use healthcare-related social networks set up for those specific purposes. Providers can help by researching what’s out there and offering recommendations to patients.

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