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Social Media & Health Care: Made for Each Other

Published October 2, 2015, 2:00 p.m.
by Caroline Giddis.

Over the past 10 years, the world has seen a boom in the creation and use of social media. Different industries have adopted it and watched how it significantly boosted their business. Health care, an industry that was very hesitant to use social media at first, has now fully embraced it and is continuously revolutionizing it for the rest of the world.

Courtesy of “Neelesh Bhandari”

If an institution, such as a hospital, uses social media effectively, it can reap many rewards. Among them are brand awareness, reliability and the opportunity to drive consumers to its doors. Social media is imperative when marketing content from the information specialists or doctors. Sharing information such as new research discoveries, the latest cancer treatments or even health tips provided by a professional will not only enhance the reliability of the brand but could also save someone’s life.

“Social media is a lot of thought leadership, but a whole lot of emotional disclosure and social support,” said Jessica Columbo, the social media program manager for Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, Oregon. “For the institution, we’re the facilitators of relationships between students, doctors and our patients. We get in there, and we do our best to establish a lot of brand equity or loyalty and trust.”

According to a Search Engine Watch article by Miranda Miller, a PwC Health Research Institute survey found that 90 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds who responded said they would trust medical information that is shared on social media. With that kind of statistic, it is almost too easy for medical facilities, doctors and hospitals to establish reliability and brand recognition.

Courtesy of “The Opportunity Agenda”

“We’re shifting industry-wide to a new approach,” Columbo said. “OHSU is known for doing a lot of what we call ‘tertiary care’; we see some of the most complicated clinical cases. From a brand perspective, some consumers think, ‘I don’t have anything complicated enough to go to OHSU.’ We’re trying to reposition our brand with some of those consumers — increasing prevention messaging — with a focus on population health and reaching people in more diverse areas. I think technology allows us to do that.”

As more and more of the population has grown up with the Internet, most of the patients who seek medical attention have already Googled their symptoms and found hundreds of different results. Just as easily as hospitals can establish trust, professionals who share incorrect or misinterpreted information can, too.

“We position our thought leaders in a way that allows them to connect directly with the healthcare consumer,” Columbo said. For teaching hospital networks, engagement on social media and websites is valued at the highest in order to provide the information directly from a healthcare provider. This can correct a lot of misinformation floating around on the Internet.

“For Mayo Clinic, social media is a perfect match,” said Dan Hinmon, community director of the Mayo Clinic Social Media Health Network. “They have a worldwide audience and care for patients from the Middle East, Europe, South America and all throughout North America. Social media becomes this wonderful opportunity to share ideas well beyond their geographic region.”

Hinmon, who is also a principal at Hive Strategies, works to train healthcare systems on how to be HIPAA-compliant and efficient in their social media marketing. The reason the healthcare industry was so hesitant about using social media, at first, was the fear of somehow releasing private patient information to the Internet. “You just have to use the same common sense that a doctor would use in a waiting room, during a phone call or in an elevator,” Hinmon said.

The instantaneousness and accessibility of social media are extraordinary benefits to healthcare providers. Ellen Makar, senior policy adviser at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, told, “The advantages are many: After reading about the marathon bombings on Twitter, trauma teams in Boston last year were able to ready themselves for surgery much sooner than they would have if they’d had to wait for a traditional news report.”

For social media in health care, the reward of saving lives definitely outweighs the risks. It not only is a great business tool, but has the ability to change the way patients perceive health care as a whole all over the world. “When health systems catch on to the power of being able to educate and inform people in useful ways that can really make a difference in their treatment and care, then they say ‘oh yeah this is just like all the other communication tools we’ve embraced over the years like faxing and the telephone,” Hinmon said.


  1. Post comment

    I thought this article was very interesting and well written. It shocked me how effective social media has been for health care. The fact that 90 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds rely more on health care information relayed by social media than by statistics was mind boggling to me. I never realized how much of an impact social media has on our world. It is cool to think about how our generation has watched social media develop our society today.

  2. Social Media & Health Care: Made for Each Other | THE GOLDEN LINING

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