Social media includes all online tools and technologies which let people communicate and publish content easily. The most popular among them are Blogs, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Widely used for communications and marketing, these channels are considered as important (if not more important) as mainstream media channels like newspapers and television.
The use of social media in healthcare represents an increasingly effective tool in healthcare. It can be used to communicate with consumers, inform about new wellness schemes, market healthcare products, provide basic healthcare advice, inform about latest medical devices, get instant public feedback and much more. At the same time,Healthcare social media also presents challenges, including risks to information accuracy, organizational reputation, and individual privacy.
The primary focus for most organizations’ social media programs is marketing and communications. Hospitals are using social media to target health consumers. As consumers are shifting to online searches before making important healthcare decisions, hospitals are looking at creating solid social media presence and fostering long term relationships with their consumers. Internationally, Mayo Clinic has taken the lead in healthcare social media. Mayo Clinic’s Center for Social Media has a stated mission to “lead the social media revolution in healthcare, contributing to health and well being for people everywhere.” Indian hospitals are not far behind. The Apollo Hospitals twitter account has more than 2000 followers. Their Facebook page makes wonderful use of the timeline feature, has 91,000 likes and is fast growing. Their YouTube channel has been active for the past 4 years.
Many organizations have also formed online support groups for patients. Patients are encouraged to share their personal experiences and this consumer generated content is an invaluable source of information for other patients. Many doctors, too, have joined such support forums and provide information on various disorders. In a country like India where 70% of healthcare services are paid for ‘out-of-pocket’, Social Media becomes all the more important for healthcare marketing. Companies selling healthcare devices have found social media influences purchasing decisions. Internationally, many pharma companies too have realized the enormous potential of social media. Almost all major drug companies now have social media presence. Companies like Pfizer, Novartis, J & J and Sanofi-Aventis have launched many innovative social media campaigns. The HR departments in many healthcare organizations are using social media sites to spot and recruit talent.
These new tools of communications come with their own risks and dangers. Like a double edged sword, all points in favor of social media usage also contribute to the dangers associated with their use. The dangers social media exposes healthcare to are internal as well as external. Flippant remarks made by nurses or doctors online can be misconstrued by general public. Cases abound where protected health information was shared online inadvertently. The danger of violations of patient privacy cannot be overstated.
Conversations cannot be controlled and negative remarks made on social media by disgruntled employees or consumers cannot be erased. Such risks can be minimized by fostering positive comments by consumers and show casing achievements and consumer centeredness via these communication channels.
Organizations need to gear up to grab the opportunity and face the challenge that is social media. They need to monitor their ‘social presence’ and keep track of consumer sentiments. Use of social media for innovative marketing and communication campaigns should be encouraged. Organizations should educate both their employees and the public on their privacy practices to encourage responsible use of their social media sites. Guidelines and specific social media policies need to be in place to promote risk free use of social media by employees. Once policy is established, employees, volunteers, contracted employees, and medical staff members should receive training and education to ensure they are aware of the policies and procedures. With proper policy and training for employees, healthcare is slowly but surely taming the social media beast that technology has helped unleash on the markets.