Hospitals should be proactive in using social media to connect and engage patients about their healthcare issues and concerns.
As much as healthcare officials are concerned about privacy and protocol, it’s not stopping patients from using the web to gather information concerning their health issues. A Pew Internet and American Life Project study shows that 61% of adults indicate they look online for health information. Most of these e-patients go online to gather information about specific health conditions.
The study also indicates that as many as 20% of adults go online and use social media sites to gather and share health information. “The Internet is now not just information,” says Susannah Fox, with the Internet and American Life Project. “There is a social life of information online. And people are using these tools to connect with friends and family, to connect with health professionals. And they are accessing a much deeper level of information than they were five years ago.”
As consumers take to social media and use it more, it’s only natural that they will use it for their health concerns. Patients will reach out on social media sites to find others who share common experiences and learn from others. There is a great sharing of information about symptoms, treatments, side effects and results. And there is great encouragement by sharing experiences with others who are having similar experiences.
Hospital marketers perhaps can learn from this to establish Facebook pages and/or Twitter accounts for patients in a local area to share and gather information. It would provide a great service to the patients and also extend the hospital’s brand to these sites as a facilitator and a sharer of pertinent information. It’s not a place for the hospital to push it services or “advertise” but a place that allows patients to honestly share information with others and the hospital to provide helpful medical and health information.
There could be Facebook pages or Twitter accounts set up for special interest groups like diabetes, cancer, maternity, young mothers and children of parents who are aging. The list is almost endless. Where ever there is a health condition where patients seek to gather and share information, there is an opportunity to use social media. There could be social media uses for just about every patient support groups that already exists so patients can do online what they do in periodically face-to-face meetings. And medical specialists in those areas could provide frequent and pertinent information that would be useful to those who visit the social media site.
Such efforts would provide a very useful service, build engagement and loyalty while enhancing the hospital’s brand.
Joseph Shapiro writing for NPR on November 16,2009 quoted Jamie Heywood, who established Patients Like Me, “The amazing shift is that we’ve pushed out this concept of sharing.” She continued, “you can find another patient who knows what you are going through, someone who is on the same treatments, is dealing with the same side effects…. whatever variable matters to you at the moment. To find out whether your concerns are justified, they make sense, whether you’re doing the right thing – that’s the transformation.”
There are great opportunities for hospitals to use social media to connect and engage consumers as well as provide useful and meaningful information. Consumers will find each other and engage in conversations. Shouldn’t hospitals join in that conversation?