I need to be completely honest. Before I started working for a healthcare IT company, I didn’t think social media – in regards to the healthcare industry overall – went far past Obamacare memes and horror stories about people misdiagnosing themselves after plunging into the dark depths of WebMD. It turns out that it’s a little more complex than that!
Social platforms are the perfect place for patients and healthcare professionals to communicate about health issues and possibly improve health outcomes. Which makes sense, because patients are turning to the internet now more than ever to research health information. Personally, I can’t remember the last time I didn’t walk into a doctor’s office and say to the nurse, “These are the symptoms I’m experiencing and this is what I think I have based on my own research.” Now, think about the potential there. There’s a giant gap that providers can fill if more of them are socially active online. The key here is to provide me with information where I’m already looking for it. We can’t be ignored! Patients are using the internet to research health information.
If used correctly, social media serves as a truly unique extension of the patient to provider relationship. Not only that, it’s really the only free (at least monetarily) way to share practice visibility, engage with other medical professionals, and provide education through things like online communities, blogs, and videos. But before you begin any type of social media campaign, there are a few things you need to remember:
- Remain HIPAA compliant – The most obvious being patient privacy protection. You can’t actually address your patients directly through social media as it violates confidentiality regulations outlined by HIPAA. ALWAYS keep this in mind, especially if other employees are posting for you. Distribute clear social networking policies to employees and avoid all discussion of patients, even in the most general of terms. Have no fear, there are plenty of unique and compliant ways to utilize social platforms to the benefit of your organization. We’ll get to those in a minute.
- Remain professional at all times – When you’re putting yourself out there on social media, especially as a business, there WILL be patients, colleagues and other professionals that challenge and disagree with you. I can say from experience as a social media strategist – and I think this is pretty universal for all types of businesses – honesty is the best policy. If someone disagrees with you online, you’ll provide yourself with a lot more credibility by recognizing their alternative opinion and providing a respectful counterargument, as opposed to ignoring them. However, if someone is blatantly disrespectful or inappropriate, that’s a different story. Again, you should train employees on how to handle these type of situations so everyone is on the same page. Remember, your reputation is on the line here, so proceed with extreme caution.
Now for the fun part!
Give your organization a voice. This is your opportunity to reach potential patients and other healthcare organizations, while impacting the daily decisions they make. When you offer your audience creative and informational content, you raise awareness of your organization in your community – on a local, regional, or even national level. Take Dr. Zubin Damania for example, better known as ZDoggMD. He’s basically an internet celebrity in the healthcare world whose notorious Youtube music video parodies cover all kinds of contemporary medical issues – from ulcers, to vaccine controversy, to EHRs. Yes, they’re satirical and meant to make you laugh, but Zubin has found a truly creative way to change the healthcare system, virally! (He's attending RBMA next week, in case you'll be there!)
Don’t let this shy you away, Dr. Z has been in the game for a long time! If you’re brand new to social media from your organization’s perspective, you don’t need choreographed music videos to provide quality content online. Regular Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, and blog posts are a great starting point. At the end of the day, sharing trustworthy and valuable content is what’s most important here. With all the false health information floating around the web, sharing reliable and reader-friendly material can help serve and protect your community and beyond.
Highlight your staff and services. Value-based care is more prominent than ever, and with the rising importance of patient engagement, quality healthcare is crucial. Use social media channels to highlight your expertise! Promote blog posts written by specialists, post videos about your particular services and how they can benefit potential patients, host Q&A sessions about important health issues... the options are endless.
Expand your professional network. Social media is an excellent way to connect with other experts in your field. Linkedin and Facebook private groups are easy means of connection, but let’s expand a little. There are tons of awesome apps out there that connect professionals in a community environment. The app Figure 1 – Medical Images lets physicians looking for feedback on rare conditions or seeking insight about specific cases share medical images with one another. The app also guarantees patient privacy with automatic face-blocking and removal of identifying information. How cool is that? Connectivity on the go that’s HIPAA compliant!
Discover strengths and weaknesses. Truthfully, people are probably talking about your organization online and you don’t even realize it. This is great for two reasons. On one hand, patients may be raving about the quality care they or a loved one received. On the other, they could be grumbling. If the latter, this is a great way to respond to those complaints in real time, letting those individuals know that you care.
Now, I know that you may be thinking, “I don’t have time for this,” but consider the many benefits mentioned that are involved in your organization having an online presence. If you’re concerned that such engagement will really take up too much of your time, schedule posts in advance using platforms like Hootsuite. In the end, regularly posting quality content won’t be a waste of your time. If possible, putting the specialist – like a radiologist – in charge of social media efforts is ideal. When the specialist directly controls content, you’re ensuring that posts are relevant to your organization’s industry, culture and goals. You’re also significantly improving potential patient engagement. Again, this is where scheduling becomes incredibly important.
When patients are actively engaged in their own healthcare, outcomes improve. Create a special relationship with other industry leaders and potential patients. Get social!