The Evolving Role of Social Media in Healthcare: Benefits & Tactics

social-media-usersMany healthcare organizations are unclear on how to integrate social media into their marketing campaigns and are fearful of HIPAA regulations affecting patient privacy. Fortunately, these obstacles are easy to overcome by developing guidelines focused on protecting patient privacy.

The fact is, social media is no longer an option for healthcare marketers – in order to engage with patients on platforms they use, social must be a part of the overarching digital marketing strategy.

The Benefits of Social Media in Healthcare

Social media opens up many opportunities for health systems. It allows organizations to build connections, share discoveries, and develop credibility as thought leaders. While other industries care about the number of likes and followers they obtain, healthcare focuses on the impact created. Simply, it’s all about building trust. 

Social media is like a referral site on steroids. Through social interactions, patients have the ability to develop a first impression of a hospital and physician before meeting them [in person].

Patients are using social media to research and make decisions, especially in regards to healthcare. The IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics, in fact, found that between 70 and 75 percent of US consumers look to the Internet for healthcare advice, of which 40 percent rely on responses from social sites.

Based on this finding, it should come as no surprise that social media has become the preferred medium for patient-to-physician, physician-to-patient, physician-to-physician, and patient-to-patient communication.

By engaging and interacting on social media sites, healthcare organizations can help revitalize the word of mouth referrals and eliminate barriers that were created by the lack of communication. 

Let’s look at how healthcare organizations should leverage the power of social media:

Healthcare Social Media Tactics

Promote Healthcare-Specific Networks

Patients have untold information about their healthcare experiences at their fingertips and want to pass it along to others who are in the same situation. To enable the patient voice, several healthcare organizations have developed tailored social platforms for targeted audiences.

One example of a patient-powered research network is PatientsLikeMe. Created in 2004, co-founders Jeff Cole and Ben and James Heywood set out to configure a way for patients to manage their own health conditions, changing the way the industry conducts research as well as improves patient care. They founded PatientsLikeMe based on the trial-and-error experience their brother went through in his fight with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). They wanted to connect with people with ALS and see what was working for them. Today, with over 300,000 members, their idea does just that.

These patient-powered platforms utilize the enormous reach of social media to connect target groups— with one another and with the health system. On these social networks, patients can explore care methods, learn from each other, and share their experiences with health systems.

Live Tweet to Educate Patients

A big reason why healthcare organizations participate in social media is to help educate patients. They want to educate the public on innovative medical cases and more importantly, engage consumers. A big reason why healthcare organizations participate in social media is to help educate patients. They want to educate the public on innovative medical cases and more importantly, engage consumers.

Frequent social media posting, like live-tweeting, provides numerous opportunities for education and engagement, boosts user authority and popularity, and works as a platform to showcase positive aspects of healthcare organizations.

In 2013, St. Vincent Charity Medical Center live-tweeted a total knee replacement surgery, in which over 3,800 people followed on Twitter and 3,000 over live-stream video and their hashtag #stvknee was a trending tag throughout the process. The following year, Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto live-tweeted a procedure for a heart bypass.

Include Hashtags to Engage in Conversations  

In relation to live tweeting, healthcare organizations are beginning to utilize hashtags in social updates. Hashtags first became popular on Twitter, as they were being used to group together similar topics that use the hash [#] symbol. Now, hashtags are used on numerous platforms: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and more.

With the continuous flow and discovery of health information, hashtags provide patients and physicians with the ability to filter available data and streamline their search. A user can search #healthcaredata, and receive live tweets, accounts, photos, videos, and other relatable posts using that hashtag.

healthcare marketing, patient engagement

Hashtag databases, like Symplur, provide healthcare organizations with the trending hashtags surrounding conferences, diseases, Twitter chats, and general usage of the week. From this information, they can develop social posts catered to what patients are currently searching for.

Final Thoughts

Let’s face it: social media has become a necessity for the healthcare industry. By leveraging social media strategically, healthcare organizations can reach target audiences, boost patient engagement, and improve health outcomes. Social media will continue to shift as it matures, and no doubt new platforms will spring up and gain popularity. Healthcare organizations need to remain vigilant about the evolving world of social media so that they can utilize it as well as possible.

Social Media Business Development and Patient Engagement in Healthcare



Evariant provides a leading healthcare CRM solution suite designed to help health systems transform the healthcare experience for their consumers, patients, and physicians. Built on the Salesforce Platform, our solutions foster richer consumer/patient engagement and tighter physician alignment. Powered by cutting-edge data and analytics, Evariant enables health systems to effectively communicate care options that increase revenue and market share, while optimizing network utilization. Many of the top health systems have selected Evariant to thrive in today’s hyper-competitive and rapidly changing environment.