Hospitals and social media are a great mix, offering a wealth of opportunities for connecting with the community, patients, and even collaborating across health systems and between different hospitals. Some medical groups are wary of the liability and privacy issues that social media may open up, but others have found ways to manage these concerns and enjoy the benefits of using social media.
Read on, and you’ll learn about 20 inspiring ways hospitals are using social media, from crisis communication to customer service.
1. Mayo Clinic
The Mayo Clinic has long been an online resource for medical information, with a website that offers advice and expertise from more than 3,300 medical professionals for free, so it’s not at all surprising that the medical group has been successful in social media. In an interview with Med City News, the Mayo Clinic was named the “poster child for healthcare social media” with social media chief Lee Aase at the helm. The Mayo Clinic has its own social media network where patients can connect, several health promotion campaigns, including “Know Your Numbers,” which promotes heart health, and a healthy presence on just about every social media outlet available, including YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook. Even Mayo Clinic doctors are encouraged to take part in social media. The clinic has been so successful in social media, in fact, that they are the hosts of the Health Care Social Media Summit, most recently held in October 2011 with 375 attendees and a buzz reaching about 100 tweets per hour.
At Chicago-based Rush University Medical Center, things get personal through blogging. Doctors were able to share and connect with readers and patients through a first-hand account of relief efforts performed after the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Sent through a text message, Dr. John Fernandez shared his experience with Doctors Jeff Mjaanes and Geoffrey Van Thiel, who all traveled together to the Dominican Republic. Their first-hand story shared messages of sacrifice and compassion, including a hungry four-year-old who saved a breakfast bar for his brother at home, insisting that he himself did not need it, and a mother treated for a horrible wound that she got by going back into her home to save one of her children. Through social media and the ease of communication in texting, Dr. Fernandez’s message was able to be delivered first-hand, and within 48 hours of when it all actually happened. This one message is not the only one, however, with Dr. Fernandez and his fellow doctors sharing several updates from the trip, offering a story that blog readers were able to follow as it happened.
Social media is all about sharing, especially when it comes to sharing resources. Massachusetts General Hospital recognizes this, and did something amazing when researchers from the Emergency Department worked together to create an iPhone app designed to help users find the closest emergency room to their area anywhere in the U.S. The app was promoted using hospital social media outlets, creating a YouTube video that bloggers could embed in their stories, also providing for opportunities to tweet the video and share it on Facebook. With the help of social media, the hospital’s app was able to stand out in the sea of apps available for the iPhone.
During the Ft. Hood shooting crisis, one of the hospitals treating victims, Scott & White, took it upon themselves to share updates with the community. Employee Steven Widman offered updates on emergency room access, hospital operation status, and more, also updating with Red Cross news and sharing communications with reporters. The crisis pushed Scott & White’s communications to the forefront of social media, increasing their Twitter followers by 78 percent in only three days, turning Scott & White Healthcare into a Twitter “trending topic,” and ranking the hospital’s YouTube channel among the most viewed non-profit channels during the crisis. Both people who were affected and those who were tuned in from afar were able to get real-time updates, thanks to the efforts of Widman and the ability of social media to share information.
Nebraska Medical Center has created an incredible YouTube presence, one so successful, that as 360 Digital Influence points out, they’ve had an increase in requests for one surgery in particular. It’s all thanks to a patient who shared her cancer experience on YouTube, which led to so many requests for the surgery she had to treat her rare carcinoid cancer that NMC had to open a monthly clinic for the condition. The medical center encourages patients to share their experience, and even makes use of QR codes to share videos of physicians introducing themselves to potential patients.
Connecting with patients and community members is great, but what if you could use social media to do something really amazing, like raise more than $1 million for a new children’s hospital? UCSF did just that, taking on a social media fundraising contest named Challenge for the Children. About 165,000 people blew past the hospital’s initial $100,000 fundraising goal thanks to social media channels including Facebook and Twitter. Much of the campaign’s success ($805,554 worth) was thanks to the Facebook game FarmVille, which allowed players to purchase virtual candy cane seeds that sent 100 percent of the profits to the challenge. This amazingly successful challenge paved the way for a new children’s hospital in Mission Bay, set for completion in 2014, and the top two teams will be honored with the naming of a dedicated space in the hospital.
It’s so important to be relevant to the topic at hand in social media, and getting off course can turn off would-be fans. But WakeMed Health & Hospitals in Raleigh, North Carolina made a smart move in April 2011, sharing a time-lapse video shot from the hospital’s helipad that showed a tornado as it passed through the area. Although the tornado is a non-medical story not directly related to the hospital’s mission, hospitals are a vital part of any community, and in sharing this video, WakeMed further cemented itself as a valuable resource for the Raleigh area. Med City News praised WakeMed for the video, pointing it out as one of the top blog entries for the medical group. As WakeMed spokeswoman Heather Monackey shares, they’ve found success in social media because they “just pay attention to what’s going on.”
Hospitals are using social media to connect internally, in addition to community building. At Texas Health Resources, social media tools make it possible for physicians and other health professionals to engage with each other and take advantage of useful tools. Using social media, Texas Health Resources promotes the adoption of electronic health records, and integrates the use of the private microblogging site Yammer to share internal messages, how-to videos, and more. Project managers and physicians use social media tools like Yammer to come together, collaborate, and communicate effectively over a large hospital system.
Health care social media isn’t just about attracting patients and building community, at least not for Geisinger Health System in Danville, Pennsylvania. The health system typically turned to ads in medical journals and direct mail to recruit gastroenterologists, but when they had trouble getting enough responses, associate vice president of marketing Cathy Connolley turned to social media to recruit their physicians. With the help of a recruitment marketing firm, Geisinger created a social media physician recruitment campaign, creating a convenient and cost-effective way to communicate with physicians, and an easy way to direct gastroenterologists to their Facebook page. As Connolley reports, “that tactic outpaced our direct mail approach and our email blasts.”
Live-tweeting brain surgery just sounds like crazy talk, but Henry Ford Hospital near Detroit made it work. While performing surgery on a 47-year-old man, doctors discussed the procedure with more than 1,900 people, and even uploaded video of the surgery to YouTube. Things seem to go to the next level when the answer to Twitter’s “What are you doing?” question is brain surgery. The hospital earned praise and attention from ABC News, and showed off just how well they can make use of social media. In addition to Twitter brain surgeries, Henry Ford Hospital makes use of news feeds, Flickr, and blogging to reach patients and the general community.
Scripps makes it a point to connect with patients and customers through the use of social media. In an interview with Found In Cache, Scripps director of web technology Marc Needham shared that the hospital typically spends its social media time on customer service. In fact, Scripps developed a new position of Electronic Customer Service Representative, specifically created to reach out to patients through social media and respond to online reviews. Needham pointed out that Scripps believes it’s important to have a good handle on their online brand perception, and left unchecked, “unaddressed complaints fester and lead to online reputation rot.” Scripps has found success in this pursuit, but Needham says they haven’t quite defined their social media approach just yet, and they’re still experimenting with a variety of different sites, including Wikipedia, YouTube, Flickr, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Scripps tends to use different sites for different purposes, like Facebook for recruitment and LinkedIn for employee connections.
Children’s Hospital Boston has a wildly popular Facebook page. A Facebook page alone isn’t quite enough to be truly impressive these days, but Children’s Hospital Boston really stands out, not just for its half a million plus fans, but really for its top-notch content. Their landing page has information people really want to read, and an encouraging atmosphere that gets patients and fans to open up and share their stories. This high level of engagement is truly inspiring, and offers a great lesson for any Facebook Page owner. Through photos of the week, Children’s Hospital Boston highlights families and patients, who in turn spread the word to their friends and family on Facebook, bringing fans and patients to the Facebook Page to interact. But, as Ignite Social Media points out, Children’s Hospital Boston does so much more than Facebook, effectively managing a Twitter feed and YouTube video collection as well.
Sarasota Memorial Hospital understands the value to building better relationships through social media. In an interview with The Side Note, the hospital’s market research manager Shawn Halls shared how it came to begin using social media as an important tool. After growth and more than three years of use, Sarasota Memorial now sees Twitter and other sites as an important part of their communications strategy, using social media as a way for the community to directly communicate with the hospital. The hospital encourages patients to direct message their Twitter account, and has even been able to connect patient family members with resources like local florists through the site. Like other hospitals, Sarasota Memorial also has plans to share surgery via Twitter, specifically a brain mapping procedure where the patient is awake.
Social media is great for spreading news, but it’s also a useful tool for correcting misinformation as well. The Greater Baltimore Medical Center knows that fact all too well, as in August 2010, a Baltimore TV station incorrectly reported that the hospital had been invaded by an armed robber. GBMC media relations manager Michael Schwartzberg was able to act quickly to correct the mistake, sending out a swift collection of tweets that set the story straight for the public and concerned citizens. With active social media accounts already in place, the foundation for sharing information was set and easy to take advantage of, something that the hospital utilizes frequently. Schwartzberg reports that in addition to media relations and customer service, GBMC uses social media as a valuable way to share crisis communication, much like their fake armed robber, H1N1 updates, and if need be, disaster reporting.
15. Inova Health
Just like GBMC, Inova Health found value in Twitter’s ability to set incorrect information straight. Inova uses a security system designed to prevent the theft of babies from maternity wards, and as hospital personnel ran a test of the system, a visitor heard it and mistakenly believed that there was a lost baby. That same visitor then tweeted about the non-incident. Director of digital communications and marketing Chris Boyer had wisely set up social media monitoring services, and quickly spotted the tweet within just minutes of posting. After calling to confirm that there was not actually a problem, Boyer was able to immediately respond on Twitter and share the hard facts of the story, helping to preserve the hospital’s reputation before things got really crazy. Inova Health’s story shows just how important it is to use tools that can help you monitor and stay on top of your social media presence.
Living organ donation is an amazing gift and process, and Children’s Medical Center was able to share a special family’s story through Twitter. As a Texas firefighter donated his kidney to his three-year-old son, the Twitterverse was able to follow along with their successful story from start to finish, shared by none other than the mom and wife. With nearly 85,000 people on the waiting list for a kidney, Children’s Medical Center media relations manager Jessica Newell hopes that “twittering from this surgery will help raise awareness for organ donation, as well as living organ donation.”
Twitter and social media in general can be a scary thing for hospitals, opening up issues of liability and uncomfortable situations. But at least at the University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, doctors and professors recognize Twitter as an incredibly valuable tool for learning and training. Dr. Philip L. Glick shares his insight: “[A] lot of the training consists of passing on information, lessons learned, and wisdom to the next generation. Twitter allows us to dramatically scale up our ability to do this. When I post something on Twitter, all the pediatric surgeons, trainees and colleagues in the country and the world can see it instantly.” In addition to small updates, University at Buffalo uses social media to share audio and video of procedures, breaking them down into small pieces that offer opportunities for sharing and teaching.
Anxious groups of families and friends sit in hospital waiting rooms across the country, hoping to hear updates and news that their loved one is doing well. Some will find out about things as they go along, some simply when procedures are over. The level of information shared largely depends on the capacity and availability of the team of medical professionals at work. With Twitter, the time and energy necessary to share updates with loved ones is significantly decreased, and small, frequent updates can be shared in just moments, creating an opportunity for hospitals to better inform worried waiting rooms as things go along. At St. Luke’s Cedar Rapids, one family was able to enjoy this incredible level of customer service, as their 70-year-old mother Monna Cleary underwent a hysterectomy and uterine prolapse surgery. Cleary had given her OK for the hospital to share a play-by-play of her operation, and hospital spokeswoman Sarah Corizzo shared more than 300 tweets, allowing the family to follow along, and informing the general public. Corizzo answered questions, and fascinated nearly 700 people who followed along with the surgery. Hospital spokeswoman Laura Rainey pointed out that live-tweeting is a “more gentle” way to inform patients and consumers, allowing them to follow what’s going on without shocking visuals. Cleary’s son Joe and his siblings appreciated the opportunity, pointing out that “it made the time go by,” and they enjoyed having real-time information and staying informed while in the waiting room.
Sharing information during a crisis is vital, even when you don’t have a lot of time or resources to do it. So when more than 50 people had to go to hospitals for treatment following a chemical fume exposure at a trash disposal station, Southcoast Hospital turned its Twitter account into a “crisis communication portal,” sharing status updates for more than a week. Updates included status on admitted, discharged, and treated patients during the spill, and helpful information and links that kept the public and concerned loved ones constantly updated during the situation.
Hospitals are full of stories that the community is interested in, with people overcoming great odds and going on to live healthier lives. At Barnes-Jewish Hospital, a 23-year-old heart transplant patient Megan Moss attracted lots of local interest, thanks to updates from the Barnes-Jewish Hospital blog, Touching Base. Additionally, Megan’s dad shared constant updates through his own blog. Moss’s story attracted so much attention, that one weekend, she got 75 emails through the hospital’s website with well wishes from friends, family, and strangers alike. Through numerous updates and even a video interview with the hospital’s director of heart transplant, both Moss and Barnes-Jewish got much deserved attention within the community.
A version of this post originally appeared at the Medical Billing and Coding blog.