Healthcare News & Insights

Social media: How well does it work in health care?

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Lots of businesses are using social media sites to promote themselves and provide information to clients. How well does that strategy translate to health care?

Health care has slightly different concerns than other industries when adopting social media: patient privacy, more regulation among them. That doesn’t mean social media won’t work for health care. It does mean hospitals and other health care organizations need to think carefully before jumping in with both feet.

There are many cases of physician practices, hospitals and non-profit organizations using sites like Facebook and Twitter to bring in new patients/clients, recruit employees, share educational resources and even fund-raise.

How the sites can be used are limited mainly by the creativity of the people in the organization. For instance, a hospital or clinic could use Facebook to share information on community events. Twitter has been used to share urgent information with community members during local crises. Doctors have even used discount sites and online coupon sites like Groupon to offer patients (new or current) special promotional rates on certain services.

Adapting to health care’s needs

But no matter how useful these sites may be to the organization, certain planning has to be done to account for the two-way nature of the web, as well as regulatory loopholes that might not be obvious at first.

For example, on a Facebook page, users can comment on any story a hospital or practitioner posts. That includes negative ratings and complaints or even specific patient information — a potential HIPAA nightmare in the making.

Or, a pharmaceutical company or other health care organization providing information on a new drug, medical procedure, etc. will need to find a way to include all required information on risks, side effects, and other data — while still managing to create an attractive, readable page for patients and potential clients.

Social media can be an effective tool for health care organizations — as long as they find the tricky balance between the needs of their patients, the true cost of the resources it will take to meet them, and the long-term benefits to the organization.

Has your organization begun using social media sites to interact with its community? Share your experiences in the comments.

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