Hospital Marketing: Surgical Tweets Keep Patients’ Families Updated

At least one hospital is now using Twitter to improve communications from the surgical suite to family members.      

Fawcett Memorial Hospital in Port Charlotte, Florida has begun using Twitter to send updates from the surgical suite to family and friends.  Instead of the family waiting, sometimes for hours, with little or no information about the surgery, Fawcett Memorial has someone in the surgical room sending tweets updating the status of the surgery. Even family and friends who can’t be at the hospital can follow the status.

In most causes there is little information about the surgery until well after the surgery is completed.  Sometimes a nurse will call the OR for an update for the family but the information is usually fairly sketchy.  Tweeting renders an extra level of service to family and friends.  They can know exactly what is going on in surgery and that provides a greater level of comfort and emotional connection to the patient.

Referring to the patient as “a patient of” and their doctor’s name and never mentioning the actual name of the patient prevent HIPAA violations. Both patient and surgeon have to give approval for the tweets.  The tweets are sent only to persons who are given the appropriate Twitter information and approval to receive the updates.

Many hospitals would react to this by arguing that they do not have personnel to send tweets and the nurses in surgery are all concentrated on the patient.  These are valid arguments. But for hospitals that are trying to get an edge in the marketplace, this could be a competitive advantage.  It certainly has the potential to create positive buzz and build loyalty to the hospital.

And it’s just one creative example how social networking can be used to improve service and enhance communication.  There are countless other ways it can be utilized.  Fawcett Memorial is next considering using twitter in the ER for the same purpose.  The availability and acceptance of social media and some creative thinking can truly break new ground in patient service.


Hospital Marketing: Using ER Wait Times as a Marketing Tool

 Emergency Room Sign         

Some hospitals are using new technology to communicate ER wait times.

In the October 12, 2009 issue of Advertising Age , Abbey Klaassen wrote about HCA hospitals in south Florida using technology to communicate their ER wait times.   Current wait times are electronically sent to electronic billboards with a RSS feed and the times are shown on the billboard.  They also have an iPhone app that provides the wait times and a texting service.  Consumers simple text “ER” to a number, supply their zip code to a text reply and the wait time and a phone number is texted back to their phone. 

And Progress West Hospital in O’Fallon, Missouri is using Twitter to communicate ER wait times according to Eric Becker of Suburban Journals.

We must commend these hospitals for embracing new technology and using it to communicate with consumers.  Sure, there may be some risks and some pitfalls.  Melanie Arnold, a spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Public Health points out that communicating ER wait times presents all sorts of possibilities of misunderstandings among patients.  A patient may show up expecting the communicated wait time and be bumped by more serious injuries or health problems.

Ed Fishbough, a spokesperson for HCA acknowledges that communicating wait times is targeted to less serious walk-in patients,  “Obviously, people who have a serious injury or medical condition should call 911 or go to the closest emergency room.”

Despite the concern, and there are legitimate ones, you must applaud those hospitals who are using new technology and channels to communicate with the public.  Those who do will reap significant rewards.  Fishbough added, the network of 12 emergency departments in south Florida has seen “significant increases in the number of patients visiting its ERs”.

New technology and new media as part of the communication effort of hospitals is something that should not wait.