Top reasons why local hospitals use social media


By now, you’ve heard about 80 percent of Internet users have looked up health information online.

But what you may not know is 57 percent of consumers have noted a social media connection with a hospital was likely to have a strong impact on their decision to seek out treatment at that particular facility. Plus, 81 percent saw a social media presence as indicative of being “cutting edge.”

A few weeks ago, I had the honor of serving on a panel for Social Media Breakfast Club of Madison, a local non profit business group with a focus on social media as a channel.

The meeting consisted of panelists representing four Southern Wisconsin hospital and health systems who shared their experiences in initiating and managing social media tools as part of their marketing-communications mixes and business best practices. The discussion centered around communication, awareness, responsiveness and buy-in.

Although the panel covered a lot of health care communications, marketing and public relations topics, an interesting topic for discussion was the reasoning behind starting a social media strategy and presence in the first place. Plus, being able to align those reasons with the changes in the health care communications landscape.

This is a large reason Social Media Club of Madison was interested in the local health care scene.

Wendy Soucie @wendysoucie, Madison-based social media strategist and president of Social Media Breakfast Club says the goal in planning programs this year and into the new year is to bring diverse practitioners into the discussion.

“We need to align with business goals, we need to make sure our clients are in the social spaces, we need a strategy and tactical plan so we get manager buy in and don’t waste precious time,” she said. “We may start with toes, and then jump into the water to create our own ‘lake effect” for social media in our industry. All this done with some type of measurement and benchmarking so we know we are progressing.”

Wendy said her team was interested in what Madison, with several major hospitals and the University, was doing around the topic of health care and social media. Like most of us, she had been following Lee Aase from Mayo Clinic as a social media professional early on and very much admire what he had accomplished.

“I think Madison-area professionals needed to also understand the direction that various-sized hospitals and health care organizations were going,” said Wendy.

So, let’s talk about that “direction” and how the strategy may change over time.

Here are a few reasons (take-a-ways from the panel) why local hospitals took the plunge into the social media world:

HIPPA and patient engagement


A major perk to developing a social media strategy is the availability to connect with patients and provide a space or open forum for discussion about the hospital or health system’s  products and services. But as health care marketers, we all understand we’re constrained under HIPAA regulations and it’s always in the forefront of everything we do in the development phase of any campaign. It’s very true in the social media realm as well. This was a major point of discussion. In fact, Steve Van Dinter from St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison told guests that if you are unsure of how to start, or what information you can share, visit HIPPA, the governing body and patient privacy advocate. “As you develop a policy, consider what your current policies cover, especially with regard to patient privacy,” said Steve.

All panelists referenced the “elevator policy” which precludes talking about patients in any form that might compromise their privacy – from conversation to email. In fact, St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison has a sign in each elevator to remind patients and staff about patient privacy when having conversation in public areas of the hospital.

Almost all panelists also agreed their health system took a “cautious approach” to social media right at the beginning. Using their social media accounts as a one-way (receiving) medium first. “Then, after realizing the power of social media and patient relationship building and trust opportunities, it changed to two-way conversation immediately,” said Jennifer Walker from UW Health.

What’s interesting is all of the organizations represented, Mercy Health System, St. Mary’s Hospital, UW Health and Fort Health Care, began engaging in social media for their organization before their organization was motivated or before they were given direction on where to take the social media plan. “This first came in the form of a Facebook page but then expanded into a Twitter account used to announce events held at the organization,” said Bridget Thomas of Fort Health Care. “Then a blog followed and now it is a full time social media management of the interface between these tools and their patients and families.”




I think transparency within our organization (Mercy Health System) is pretty critical as well as approachability, education to all employees on social media and how it all played in to HIPPA regulations and the protection of our patients’ privacy online.

Which brings me to one of the main reasons we (Mercy) dived in to social media in 2008. We wanted to leverage social media to make it easy for us to reach out to our community, our patients, not just be another brand logo.



Re-energize the brand

All panelists agreed that convincing administrators that more and more patients are online and social media is one more tool in the marketing mix, and most effective at developing the conversation that builds the relationship between the institution and providers and patients.

The panelists all agreed to having a positive, interactive relationship with fans and followers using social media and how it can help a company recover from negative feedback and promotes the brand of the organization.

UW Health, Fort Health Care and Mercy Health System allow employee access to social media sites. “Your employees and patients can also be your strongest advocate, as well as your biggest fan base,” Bridget said. “When managing unhappy customers, address the issue immediately and offline just as any other business would. Your loyal fans will also help take care of you with positive comments and experiences.”



All panelists shared the same thoughts on health education. “Promoting health events, seminars etc. not only helps with patient engagement, it also helps the news media track for story ideas,” said Steve. “Our social media accounts are also a trusted place for reporters to find their stories, testimonials and ideas.”

Which brings me to another reason Mercy jumped into the social media was to correct the incorrect information that is published on the web.

Ten years ago, there was a lot of information on the web, but today, there is so much that it gets confusing for the Internet user. We like to use our social media sites to be the go-to place for health information locally – a local source our community can trust.

Jennifer said that many of the UW Health doctors know and realize that their patients are using social media as a way of gathering medical information — often from one another.

“Patients are sharing information among themselves; we need to be there too,” she said.

The future of social media within health care in some ways will be like many industries. Consumers will drive the level of activities just by sitting in your waiting room and using social tools. Heck, it’s already happening.

So, why did your hospital or health system jump on the social media bandwagon? Join the conversation and share your ideas and comments below.

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