The past few years have been quite a whirlwind in the communications and marketing field, and the hospital sector is right in the middle of it all. Despite patient privacy and some resistance, social media has taken hold as a vital part of our everyday lives in the world of health care and hospital communications
Its humble beginnings may be traced back to something as simple as a Mayo Clinic video of an adorable couple who played piano in the atrium. I don't think anyone, including Lee Aase, had any idea that this would grow into something as big as it is, with now over 7 million views. Now, Aase and the folks at Mayo have become known as leaders in the use of social media in healthcare, and this year launched a first of its kind Center for Social Media , which I'm sure will lead the way in the future.
How hospitals use social media continues to evolve. We've come to realize that we can have fun in this technological world while still getting a message across. St. Vincent Medical Center's Pink Glove Dance video gave the hospital an opportunity to spotlight staff from every area of the hospital while promoting breast cancer awareness. With more than 12 million views, it was so successful, they went ahead and made a sequel . But this one is a compilation from hospitals in the U.S. and Canada, with staff and survivors donning their pink gloves and dancing in the mission to raise awareness and show breast cancer patients they're not alone. Brilliant!
While not quite as fun, hospitals are also using social media in incredibly practical ways. Scottsdale Healthcare was the first to post ED wait times on a website, and others like the Akron General Health System are also doing this on Twitter and Facebook. Some people have expressed concern about this practice and have written articles like the one in American Medical News (and on iHealthbeat at the previous hyperlink) arguing it could discourage patients from seeking care when there is an extended wait.
Social media and crisis situations seem to be a natural union. The quick, accessible media allow someone within a hospital to post quick updates as information breaks. Some hospitals are to be commended for their clear-thinking and rapid-fire approach to using social media during these times. Those that come to mind are Scott & White , during the Ft. Hood shootings , or Johns Hopkins tweeting and posting updates on their website during a hostage/shooting situation.
Hospitals are now hiring social media managers like Dana Lewis at Swedish. Dana is the perfect person for this position, and in a tweet said she can't imagine being anywhere else. With the focus on engagement and conversations growing by the day, this is definitely a smart move. Promoting fundraising events is also a natural, because you've already got a captive audience of followers.
So what does the future hold? The possibilities are endless.
*Tomorrow's Facebook can be a storefront for a hospital complete with secure checkout for cause marketing related sales (think selling Christmas ornaments that benefit the hospital right from your Facebook page!).
*Find and recruit patients who are willing to tell their stories in videos, or become advocates who can serve as defenders of your reputation when a crisis hits.
*Use Twitter and Facebook to conduct focus groups on new ads, mission statements, etc.
*Offer a formal complaint process through Facebook.
*Use social media as THE internal communications process for staff
*Offer mobile apps that allow users to track their status for certain conditions and report directly to their physician (this may actually already be in use).
How else do you see social media evolving among hospitals?
Nancy Cawley Jean is a senior media relations officer for Lifespan in Providence, RI, where she oversees social media for Lifespan's five partner hospitals and also manages the national media relations for research at Rhode Island Hospital and its Hasbro Children's Hospital. Find her at @NancyCawleyJean on Twitter.