Ten Rules for Health Care Organizations Interested in Using Social Media

Include social media like “Facebook” or “Twitter” in health care business plan, and you’ll probably prompt glazed looks from the average health care administrator. Those who recognize the terms will want to know what they have to do with filling up that new heart catheterization suite or increasing referrals to their infusion center.  They’re too busy with marketing flotsam like “Top 100” billboard campaigns or convincing the local news media to mention that newly renovated lobby. These functionaries look, but they do not see.

Case in point: during a recent work-out at the local fitness center, the Disease Management Care Blog  witnessed two elder women chatting while speed-walking on side-by-side treadmills.  Down the row were two younger women on side-by-side exercise bicycles, also chatting.  The difference was that the two younger women had ear plugs in place, their cell phones out and were simultaneously texting.  All four women were continuously talking at the same time, but that’s not the point.  The point is that two-way web-based cellular communication is fast becoming a 24-7 standard for tens of millions of people.  Those two elders may currently command greater purchasing power, but those texting youngsters is where the future lies.

As mentioned in yesterday’s post, health care organizations that realize that they need to get the attention of the two women on those exercise bikes will find it extremely challenging.  That’s because those ladies will have to “opt-in” and agree to “friend” or “follow” you.

While social media is just as new to population health providers, the DMCB thinks they’ll have a leg up because they have been in the “opt-in” business for over a decade.  After doing some reading and talking to some colleagues in the disease management industry, here are ten insights that can help other health care organizations such as accountable care organizations, integrated delivery systems, medical homes or other provider organizations build followers, tweeps, and friends the opt-in world of social media:

1) Offer brief, personalized, meaningful and relevant content: mass messaging and links to milquetoast advice offer little value.  Efficiently written humor, unique insights and actionable information need to make the effort it takes for your customers to pay attention worthwhile. Being snarky , rude and pushy isn’t necessarily bad. Extra points for catering to “micro” communities.

2) Expect slow uptake, one person at a time: adoption is non-linear, starting slowly and building as awareness grows to, if you do this right, a tipping point.  While big Twitter communities weren’t built in a day, the good news is that once a base of readers/friends/followers is established, it won’t easily go away.

3) It’s a part of a larger coherent marketing and branding strategy: traditional communication “channels” still have a role to play.  Print, email and phone calls should continue in addition to tweets and postings.

4) Aim it relevant generational health issues – current younger users of social media are more likely to be interested in personally important issues like health promotion, obesity or child care.  Chronic conditions like diabetes or hypertension are less relevant…. for now.

5) Incentives are OK: assuming you can get past the kick-back, privacy and insurance rules, think gift certificates or raffles for sign-ups as well as referrals. It works in employer settings, why not out on the net?

6) Worries? Yes, including HIPAA, creepy data mining, hacking, surveillance, cyber-bullying and predatory behavior.  You’ll need to be up-front with friends and tweeples about this and promptly notify them of any problems.

7) It’s messy: the likelihood that this can be predictably planned is very low.  Flexible adaptation and trying to get buy-in from a skeptical audience means this will be more of a journey than a destination.

8) Social media networking is important: in addition to building your community of individuals, you’ll need to interact with other Twitterers, Facebook pages and blogs.  Play nice with them and they’ll notify others about you.

9) Prize relationships: this is a two-way street, which means you have to have a reputation for listening. That means being aware of any community “buzz” and promptly answering all individual questions, comments and concerns.

10) It isn’t cheap: This takes time. This has to be supported with policy and procedure. This requires training and staffing. This needs money.

Jaan Sidorov, MD, is a primary care internist and former Medical Director at Geisinger Health Plan with over 20 years experience in primary care, disease management and population-based care coordination. He shares his knowledge and insights at Disease Management Care Blog, where this post first appeared.

21 replies »

  1. You actually make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this topic to be actually something which I think I would never understand. It seems too complex and extremely broad for me. I am looking forward for your next post, I will try to get the hang of it!

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  3. Medical students and physicians face the choice of either not using social media or using pseudonyms that only friends know in order to avoid violating privacy rules and to steer clear of inappropriate contact . However may veteran providers still have not explored the vast benefits of Medicine going social..

    From hearsay it is believed that top-level doctors and medical professors recommend staying away from so called ‘Social Media Medicine ‘
    this can be due to reasonable fears about information security ,diagnostic errors and conflicts of Opinions amongst some global medical fraternities.

    Medicine is transforming at an explosive rate. And social medicine is a concept that is here to stay. Question now arises if we are ready to Provide a secure and rapidly adaptable concept ..?
    do we have enough work-forces who are upto date with me mechanics of social-media

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  5. I have to agree with the majority of posters…yes technology will continue to evolve and “facebook” may lose its splendor and may be replaced by the next best thing but web-based communication is here to stay and source that allow that communication to become more streamlined in our fast paced society can only enhance how the web is utilized.
    The comments began with Nurs6022 discussion point number 4 which can be summarized as “having relevance”. Whatever approach we utilize to share or market what we have or what we know must have relevance to its intended audience

  6. Like other posters, I have to politely disagree with those who view social media as a passing fad. I often wonder if those espousing this opinion were similarly skeptical of web sites a few years back? We need to face the fact that patients, prospective employees, members of the media and others are turning online for information about our hospital. People are talking about us and asking each other about their experiences with us. Why not have a voice in the conversation? I can’t remember the last time I got a personal question answered by a billboard or television commercial.

    I wonder if those who view social media as a fad are simply uncomfortable with the mechanics of various platforms or perhaps only have experienced the negative or pointless sides of social media i.e. “what I had for breakfast” posts. It’s word of mouth on steroids and puts the audience back in control.

  7. Some healthcare organizations are beginning to recognize the potential impact of leveraging social media channels to complement training efforts. Mayo Clinic Social Media Manager Lee Aase, for example, incorporated social media into a recent training presentation for local chapters of the American Heart Association. (Check out Lee Odden’s social media interview with Aase for Online Marketing Blog.) During the presentation, Aase leveraged Twitter to encourage participants to contribute to the discussion using the #AHAchat hashtag.

  8. Mr. Murray’s unbelievable statement (“Facebook and other similar so-called “social media” is fluff and of no economic or medical value now or ever.”) flies in the face of the groundswell of professional medical organizations which have formed thriving FB communities tied to their society sites, their journal sites, and other sites of professional value. Mr. Murray misses an important point about social media: in our digital world, these are tools to bring like-minded people together to share and to educate. They’re popular because they work.

    Further, I find it ironic that Mr. Murray would put down social media as “idiocy” and “hype” while spending so much time using social media (e.g., this blog).

  9. Mr. Murray, I find your attitude archaic. As David Jones said, you might have felt the horseless carriage would never survive, or maybe you would prefer we still called on the the crank telephone with the party lines. For all your fluff and bluster, you do have a valid point regarding EMR information. The EMR information must maintain a patient’s right to privacy and still be accessible to the patient and to medical providers at the patient’s request. Records might also be coded to allow research to occur while protecting the patient’s privacy.

  10. I am sorry that the two commenters above apparently have jumped into an industry of hype and nonsense and will therefore their activities – even worse defend the inevitable bubble that is Facebook – blindly. Facebook is the new AOL. The level of valueness of the service is the same and the lemminglike willingness to fool oneself that there is some value there, not mention the laughable economic valuation given Facebook, is the same as that surrounding AOL in its heyday.

    The only issue of value in regard to healthcare technology is the one I mention regarding real-time collection of all relevant data about a patient that is available to a medical service provider or other interested party at the time that service is rendered.

    Facebook and other similar so-called “social media” is fluff and of no economic or medical value now or ever.

  11. @Wendell Murray I so disagree with you as well. I have been involved with the internet/web over the last 13+ years and in those endeavors watched social media evolve in different ways through blogs, ezines, enewsletters, chats, groups and online communities. It is very obvious to anyone paying attention to these environments that this is how people like to interact and it is convenient for those busy families who now both man and wife have to work and children in school and aging parents to deal with. So how else do you get engaged in information that will help you better assess your health than through online accurate content. WebMd has shown that it has been the trusted resource now for years. Social media is just giving it another way to make it interactive like we are used to offline. Maybe Facebook is not for you or others but Facebook is an opportunity to drive over 600+million to relevant content that you have provided as a clinician or healthcare organization. It is also an opportunity to provide private groups to have support and/or collaboration for those dealing with chronic or life threatening diseases. I always suggest building an online community that the healthcare organization can provide relevant and accurate content for the patient seeking such information while supporting them in a secure environment like Health Community Xchange™. We can help you better understand social media and how to leverage it in your healthcare organization, practice or career. 603-893-2859

    I want to also say that I do agree that data stored by any health care provider should be made available easily and securely to all patients as a right to be able to view and/or leverage the inforamtion for second opinions or to make health decisions.

  12. @Wendell Murray – I respectfully disagree with you as I would’ve disagreed with someone who felt the horse and buggy carriage would outlast the automotive vehicle. As an expert on internet marketing and social media, my company assists numerous medical professionals in these avenues in driving business to websites and offices. Facebook isn’t going anywhere. Soon they will be rivaling Google in search – let us help you get in on it now, and help you understand the value of social media as well as a realistic and purposeful internet marketing strategy. Call me at 919-390-5760

  13. So-called social media, ala Facebook, will die within the next few years as a a service with any utility whatsoever. It has little utility now. More and more people over the next few years will realize that there is not only no utility by negative utility to have a Facebook or similar account. I have no clue about Twitter, nor any interest in the service. I consider its pretensions to usefulness to be laughable.

    Electronic transmission immediately of all relevant patient data is the only computer-based service of value. Enabling the access to any repository, i.e. EMR system at any medical service provider or payer or pharmacy or any other entity that stores data locally for a given patient must be made available wherever a patient needs it.

    That is the overwhelmingly most important aspect of computerization of patient clinical or non-clinical data.

    Forget about the idiocy of Facebook and its ilk.

  14. Great points Nurs6022. I agree with your assessment. Each generation is finding their own way of interacting online and according to most surveys each of the different generations are using the internet to find information on healthcare. The latest survey said that Facebook was #4 most used and WebMd was #1 which makes sense since it has been around the longest and is working with content providers that verify the content for accuracy.

  15. Great post! You may also want to add to this list #11: curating online content, not simply posting links and #12: protecting the online messages from re-posts, unethical content farms, and misinformation that can drown out the original message.

    When you will curate online information you will get hundreds and thousands of people following your every word. Don’t just be there for the sake of being there.

  16. I find your comments intriguing. You appear to contradict yourself. In #1 you mention meaningful and relevant content and yet in #4 you imply the texting savvy youth are only interested in image self improvement. Wake up! The technologically advanced youth need valid information about chronic health conditions for themselves and for adults in their lives. As an RN I am teaching youth in my practice every day about chronic health conditions-asthma, diabetes, obesity, blood pressure and a host of other topics. When we begin teaching about chronic health conditions at very early ages, we open the doors to better health outcomes as patients age.
    5-10 are very valid issues. The young users and the older user may be concerned about privacy and security. Ensuring the user the information available and or posted will be secure and what you plan to do if your system is compromised is vitally important.
    Assuming the young are the ones who will use the electronic system is perhaps not valid. My parents are in their 80’s and avid Facebook users. They have learned to send text messages and to research information on the Web. My youngest child is in his 20’s and he also researches the web for valid medical information. Do not sell any generation short in the information they are seeking.