The Risks of Doing Nothing: Social Media for Healthcare

Social media can have an impact on health care organizations, whether the organization has proactive programs or passively chooses to ignore it. By doing nothing, hospitals are at more legal risk because no clear guidelines articulate how staff should participate in social communities, how doctors share medical advice on blogs and where patients get medical information.

Andrew Cohen of Forum One, recently wrote about the session he attended at the South by Southwest Interactive Conference, which identified legal issues as the top concerns of hospital administrators. Second to this is “lack of comfort with social media by administrators as well as staff…”

With patients helping themselves to information on websites that may or may not be good information, hospitals and other healthcare organizations like lifecare facilities have an opportunity to help guide patients and their families to good information and support.

In fact, every department needs to consider how social media effects them including human resources, legal, marketing, IT, patient services, and each and every medical specialty.   In 2009, we met with many of the SVPs  at a major teaching hospital north of Boston, Lahey Clinic, to give them a sense of what they need to think about.

Key to a social media strategy that has many public facing thought leaders guidance and training. For these programs to be successful, they need to have participation and commitment from all of the major leaders in the organization.

Components of a social media strategy

Some of the components of a good strategy should include:

  • Guidelines for usage-legal, HR and IT need to work together to determine what is appropriate social media usage on the job, and create a social media policy (or guidelines) and educate employees on their expectations for behavior.
  • Marketing and media relations- the organization should update their media policy to include interviews on blogs, podcasts and web videos, as well as provide guidance for medical professionals on giving medical advice online.
  • Thought leadership-Marketing should also develop a strategy on how to use the thought leadership of top physicians, through blogging, twitter accounts, podcasts and video, and mobile apps to promote the expertise of the hospital.
  • Patient Services -Hospitals can engage patients through community forums and help them get answers to questions about their illness, surgery or recovery.

Marketing should implement these strategies centrally in a coordinated fashion as an extension of the overall marketing strategy, rather than leave it to each medical specialty to fend for themselves. Ideally there would be a new role at the hospital for a social media director who would work along side and collaborate with the traditional Marketing Communications Director.  Some hospitals hire outside consultants to start, then figure out what is needed in house after the initially strategy is developed.

The message is this: social media is the new way that we all get information, and it must be taken seriously. Hospitals and other healthcare organizations cannot afford to ignore it.

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