Should Healthcare Organizations Use Social Media?
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Social media has revolutionized the way people interact, and it is drastically changing the way healthcare organizations communicate with customers and accomplish their business objectives.
On average, global consumers spend nearly a quarter of their online time using social media sites. One out of every seven minutes spent online is on Facebook, according to the research firm comScore. Leveraging the popularity of these and other sites can be advantageous for healthcare organizations.
In our recent report, “Should Healthcare Organizations Use Social Media — a Global Update,” CSC’s Global Institute for Emerging Healthcare Practices describes best practices shared by early adopters around the world. The report shows that healthcare organizations are already taking advantage of social media to accomplish a number of strategic goals related to marketing, information sharing, engaging patients and encouraging innovation.
Social media can supplement an organization’s overall communication and marketing strategy. For instance, by maintaining a presence on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, German drug maker Boehringer Ingelheim shares news, promotes events and public awareness campaigns, and presents the company to a global audience.
Many hospitals have also launched Facebook pages to promote their facilities. Some also use social media to facilitate patient engagement and care management, and to gain early feedback with regard to products in development.
Facebook and Twitter have fostered the development of several online health communities. In addition, a number of health-specific sites have been created to encourage information sharing and, especially, to provide a context for giving and getting support.
Physician-patient interaction on social media sites is a less common but growing phenomenon, as more patients are initiating contact with their physicians through social media than ever before. Through patient networking sites such as PatientsLikeMe in the United States and HealthUnlocked in the United Kingdom, patients and caregivers are forming communities of people with like conditions, creating profiles to document details of their health condition, sharing advice on treatments and providing motivational support.
Early reports indicate that participation in online communities can help educate and engage patients as well as encourage healthy behaviors. For this reason, a number of groups encourage patients to participate in such interactions. Some providers, such as Raboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre in the Netherlands and the Mayo Clinic in the United States, have launched their own online communities to promote patient interaction.
Some groups leverage online communities to connect patients and providers, and to aid in care-management activities. How Are You, a website launched by the National Health Service (NHS) Midlands East and Cambridge Healthcare, connects patients with their network of formal and informal (family) caregivers.
The site prompts patients to enter periodic status updates about how they are feeling, which are communicated to their followers. Tracking patient updates on the site helps providers and loved ones monitor a patient’s well-being and recognize when an individual may need medical assistance or additional encouragement.
Patient communities can also help companies develop the next generation of prescription drugs and medical devices. Conversations on patient networking sites provide insight into disease progression, how medications and devices are used, their effectiveness, their side effects and unmet patient needs.
Belgium-based biopharmaceutical company UCB is one organization that uses aggregated, de-identified patient data from these sites (with patients’ permission) to look for new product ideas.
The experiences of early adopters demonstrate that social media can be a valuable tool. Healthcare organizations that have not yet started to use social media should take the leap; if they wait, they may find themselves playing catch-up to their competitors.
Organizations should develop an overall strategy that uses social media to help influence customers and accomplish strategic healthcare goals. As healthcare organizations consider what to do with and about social media, we offer the following advice:
1. Don’t take a “wait-and-see approach.” Although some believe social media is a passing fad, we believe it is here to stay, and the sooner your organization develops an active presence, the less distance you will have to make up later.
2. Establish a social media policy. At a minimum, this will help protect against security, privacy or ethics breaches by your employees or customers. You should also offer staff education. Training and outreach are necessary to ensure that your staff fully understands and is able to carry out the policy.
3. Follow your customers. Listen to what others are saying about your organization, your product(s) and your brand(s). Monitor the social media activities of others in your market, and use social media to listen to what others are saying about your competition.
4. Consider starting where many organizations start. Use social media to enhance marketing, branding, recruitment, reputation management, customer relations and customer service. However, educate yourself first on what is allowable under existing laws in your country.
5. Start small and monitor outcomes. You don’t have to develop a full-blown social media strategy now, but eventually you will need one. Ask yourself what your organization should be doing now to anticipate a wider use of social media to help accomplish key healthcare goals.
6. Recruit social media managers internally. Distribute responsibilities among staff that know your organization, are Internet-savvy and are excited about using social media to benefit your organization. Keep social media content accurate and current.
JARED RHOARDS is a senior research analyst in CSC’s Global Institute for Emerging Healthcare Practices.