So how is social media penetrating the medical profession and its institutions? Just as it is in other areas of society—in just about every conceivable way and with widely variable effects.
Explore This IssueMay 2013
Health care institutions that embrace social media have to deal with a double-edged sword: Social media provides a vibrant tool for marketing products and services to targeted patients but, at the same time, allows the institutions only loose control of the information. If a product or service is viewed negatively, the freelance contributors of social media can do a lot of damage. A dissatisfied patient now has a platform to complain not to 10 but to 10 million customers. Institutions have incorporated complaint centers on their own websites to bring issues to light and resolve them quickly, before the damage is beyond control.
An example of this principle is the dynamic rating tools that have permeated product marketing on the Internet. Social media has rendered businesses essentially powerless to control their own public images. The same thing can occur in medicine and, let’s face it, the competitive health care market is big business.
Sixty-eight percent of the 25 largest hospital systems in the U.S., as measured by number of employees, have a social media presence, but only 10 of the 25 largest systems had more than 500 Facebook likes. (This makes our Academy look pretty good.)
Successful Use in Health Care
Examples of hospitals successfully using social media include Facebook pages targeting pregnant mothers, pediatric issues and families of cancer patients. A children’s hospital might use Facebook likes and Twitter followers for fundraising, i.e., $1.00 donated for each like or follower, with a goal of $100,000. Parents of patients are able to share their stories—and, fortunately, most are positive.
As with other businesses, however, there is little control over negative input. Some systems effectively use Twitter as a platform for job postings. Others use it to encourage questions, with answers posted back on Twitter and archived in Q&A pages on the organizations’ websites.
Blogs are also very effective, but underutilized, tools for reaching a target audience. Only three of the largest 25 hospitals effectively utilize blogs at all. One of these hospitals started a blog in response to patients who had been blogging their dissatisfaction with the system.
The key to making these systems effective is staff dedicated to maintaining and responding to inquiries. Without this staff, patient or consumer impressions of the organization can be devastating.