Within the next three to five years, the use of social media to connect with individuals is expected to increase by 256 percent.
For the healthcare industry in particular, social media can help engage patients, providers, and the public with relevant and timely information, as well as communicate the value and credibility of the health system.
Why is this tactic becoming a critical component of healthcare marketing strategy?
A recent study found 57 percent of consumers’ decisions to receive treatment at a healthcare facility are strongly influenced by that provider’s social media connections, showing that patients trust health organizations with a social presence.
According to another report, 60 percent of doctors say social media improves the quality of care delivered to patients, which means that doctors also value the transparency and open communication that social media can provide.
With the opportunity to increase patient referrals and improve the quality of care, it’s no surprise that many health systems are jumping on the social media bandwagon.
Let’s take a look at a few ways using social media in healthcare can improve overall marketing efforts:
Engage With Patients in Real Time
One of the benefits of social media marketing in healthcare is enabling deeper and more meaningful discussions that address patient questions, concerns, and interests in real time.
The question is: How can healthcare marketers effectively use social media to communicate and engage with existing patients?
Health systems can facilitate patient empowerment by enabling and engaging in patient forums and research networks online. For example, PatientsLikeMe allows patients to manage their own health conditions by discussing treatments with patients who have similar conditions. Hospitals and other health networks can develop their own platforms that allow patients to share their experiences and receive support from similar individuals.
Along with forums, health systems can use social networking pages to encourage patient discussions. For example, Children’s Mercy uses their Facebook page as way to showcase their reputation as a renowned care center. “Locally, Children’s Mercy wants parents to know their kids are in good hands. Social is a good way to share news and feature CMH doctors and patients,” according to PR Director Jake Jacobson.
This video is a part of Children’s Mercy’s “Big Slick KC” promotion for their annual fundraiser. Posts like these are able to raise awareness for the health system’s Cancer Center, share patient stories, and urge people to donate.
According to the Journal of Health Management, “When patients tell their stories, their friends see that and the likelihood of spreading the message increases many-fold.”
To successfully engage patients on social media forums or networking sites, organizations must regularly monitor these platforms to respond to patients in a timely manner, as well as ensure fresh, engaging content is added often to keep patients interested.
Facilitate Physician Collaboration
Healthcare marketers can also use social media channels to encourage physician alignment and collaboration. Texas Health, a network of 25 hospitals that employs 5,500 physicians, created an enterprise social network to help physicians communicate and work with one another in overcoming challenges posed by the work environment, such as EHR requirements.
As a result of this networking initiative, the health system saw improved physician collaboration, in addition to a shorter learning period and greater acceptance of using social media tools.
Why should healthcare marketers be concerned with improving physician alignment and collaboration?
Social media is an easy way for physicians to find and connect with other health professionals, even those outside of their own health system or hospital. Physicians can also share their knowledge or research to benefit other providers.
Overall, these practices improve physicians’ knowledge and willingness to work as a team. The more informed and educated a health system’s physicians are, the happier patients will be with their experience and the quality of care provided.
Ultimately, healthcare marketers should strive to provide patients with better experiences in order to foster loyalty, retention, and positive word-of-mouth referrals. Improving physician engagement and alignment is one way to do so.
Support Population & Preventative Health Initiatives
Since many social media sites are public communication platforms that can reach a wide breadth of individuals, healthcare organizations can use this marketing tactic to support broader population health and preventative health initiatives.
One way to do this is to communicate educational information about health events and crises. Lee Aase of Mayo Clinic and Shannon Dosemagen of Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science, say “organizations can use social media to distribute time-sensitive health information, promote information sharing to encourage behavioral changes (including corrective changes during potential health crises), be a platform for conversation between agencies and constituents (rather than just as an information provider), and allow the public to provide useful information and feedback.”
— Mayo Clinic (@MayoClinic) January 23, 2017
Healthcare organizations can also use social media as a platform to distribute information about common health conditions, diseases, and other public health issues in the hopes of preventing these occurrences.
As John Weston, CMO of Mayo Clinic notes, “We leverage the rich content we have to provide consumers with information about diseases and conditions, even when it is likely they may never become a patient. We view this as part of our moral responsibility—to share our knowledge and expertise to benefit others.”
Though social media does provide the opportunity for healthcare organizations to reach large consumer and patient populations, marketers need to be mindful of maintaining HIPAA compliance and other privacy regulations on these public platforms.
Providers can maintain the trust of patient-provider relationships by staying far away from patient information and establishing a professional presence. Keeping this in mind, social media in healthcare has the potential to improve patient engagement, drive physician alignment, and foster a healthier society overall.
How does your healthcare organization take advantage of social media?