Social media is the new frontier in healthcare communication. Patients are seeking answers before and after medical appointments. People that were once private about their medical conditions are now connecting with family, friends and complete strangers to get opinions on their conditions and possible treatments. And, today’s new “social patient” is venturing online to get ratings and reviews about hospitals and doctors in order to get more comfortable about their healthcare decisions. So, why all the caution and concern by hospitals about joining the new social revolution? Is it really that complicated and risky? I believe most of the pressure and uncertainty can be eased by answering a few common questions for the hospital:
1. How engaged should our hospital be in the social stratosphere?
The social media environment is enormous; literally thousands of social networking sites and applications are available. The breadth of it all is simply overwhelming when you try to understand what’s available. So, don’t even try. The best approach to determining where—and to what degree—you should get engaged in social media is to look at it from an outward strategic perspective. Your organization needs to ask:
· Do we want to simply watch and be aware of conversations in our community? This is an activity that your healthcare organization should do at a minimum. The more you know about the topics and issues being discussed about your organization, its services and staff, the better you will be at shaping your organization for success. This activity is easy and can be done with little or no investment. You can simply use a browser and visit common social media sites.
· Do we want to go a step further by engaging our hospital in social conversations? The answer here can be more easily determined by deciding … “When a patient is expressing a complaint online, would we like the opportunity to respond and help solve the issue?” Or, “If a patient is posting a question about our services, would we like to offer answers for all to see, not just that patient?” If the answer is that you would like to engage in conversation, then you need to involve your IT department so that you can set up and manage your own social media accounts within your organization. I say this because many organizations block social media from company access. Begin by setting up accounts and responding to content on sites such as: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Ning, and Twibes.
· Do we want to go all the way into social media by becoming a thought leader and conversation starter? Again, this depends upon your strategy as an organization. If you are the healthcare brand leader in your community, consumers expect you to take the lead in social conversations. They will watch what you post, how you position your organization, and what you say to patients and constituents in the community. Take the opportunity to do just that. Post your press releases on Twitter and Facebook. Announce job openings on those social networks — as well as on LinkedIn. Get your physicians engaged on Facebook by posting their opinions on health topics and issues. Write articles for posting on WordPress and Blogger. The bottom line is, if you want to be a healthcare leader, you also need to be a leader on the social front by pushing content and creating discussions, rather than just reacting.
2. How can we best use social media without the fear of violating HIPAA requirements?
The position to take here is no different than what you do today. Your employees know they should never release information about specific patients and their medical information. You trust that they comply with HIPAA regulations in their personal time, why not trust that they would do the same in the work environment? Granted, incorporating social media into the workplace facilitates greater opportunities for employees to make mistakes, but it can also be viewed as a means for making employees more aware of privacy rules and methods. That said, a social media policy is a valuable document to help protect your organization from potential liability. The easiest way to begin drafting a policy is to look at how other organizations have already tackled the subject. One rule of thumb is to keep it simple. Danbury Hospital in Connecticut does a good job of this on their policy. They begin by differentiating between personal and professional online activities:
· Personal blogging is not a business-related activity and should be done during personal (non-work) time only.
· Company-sponsored blogging may only be done after express authorization of public relations/marketing.
· In the event that you participate in personal blogging, the following applies …
Other social media policies by hospitals include: Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, Sentara/OptimaHealth, Sutter Health, and MD Anderson.
Perhaps the safest overall position I have seen organizations use to protect themselves is to have employees that are engaged in social media add a disclaimer on their blogs and social media sites similar to: “The opinions and statements on this site are my own and are not approved, reviewed or endorsed by my employer or any other organization.”
You can find a host of additional information about social media policies for healthcare organizations at 100 Best Health Care Policy Blogs hosted by RNCentral.com.
3. Who in our healthcare organizations should be responsible for social media?
This is a question that your management needs to answer. Typically, a simple social media presence can be managed by one person. This person should be familiar with your hospital’s positioning, branding and service offerings. Quite often, this person is in a marketing, PR or customer relations role. This person can watch conversations, report on the sentiment and subjects discussed, monitor your competitors, and manage a corporate Twitter and LinkedIn page. However, if your communications strategy requires more social engagement, then you may want to add responsibilities that include writing and responding to blogs, speaker forums and chat rooms. This may require the involvement of a physician or another subject matter expert who can respond intelligently to questions and comments. At the highest level of social engagement, for organizations that want to be a community leader, you should form a “social team” that includes members from IT, marketing, public relations, community relations, and possibly members of your outside agency. The more connected team members are to each other and the more ownership each has in the process, the more successful the social media program will be. You should also assign a person within your organization to perform tracking and measurement using social media tracking tools such as: Twitalyzer, Twinfluence Rank, HootSuite, Addictomatic, Social Stats and Google Analytics.
In summary, the way I like to address hesitations and uncertainties about social media is to quote Reed Smith, director of project management at the Texas Hospital Association, who said, “These conversations are going to happen anyway, so it's just a matter of whether or not you're going to participate in the conversation. If you're not involved, you don't really have any influence."
If you would like assistance in creating a “healthy” social media program for your hospital, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also join me on my social media sites below as well as on Twitter at @Just4Hospitals.
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