Putting Social Media to Work in the Health Care Industry

20 07 2012

Guest post by Atara Lakritz, an intern in Access Computer’s summer internship program

Facebook is expected to pass the 1 billion user mark by mid-August of this year (the 12th, to be exact). Twitter users hit 100 million active users earlier this year. With each passing day, social media websites of all kinds are only gaining in popularity. Those users will always seek medical advice in one form or another.

Especially in the US, the doctor-patient relationship is of pressing value. So why not utilize social media to further the influence and important role doctors play in the lives of their patients? Access Computer specializes in social media marketing for Metro Detroit’s local medical community. While many physicians and dentists once thought Facebook and Twitter wouldn’t be able to help their practices, they now see the light. Contact Access today to learn how social media can help your medical or dental practice.

I recently read an interesting article about how more doctors are taking advantage of social media. Pamela Lewis Dolan at amednews writes:

Through social media, physicians can gain insight into what patients are willing to do to improve their health and what obstacles stand in their way, Kevin Abramson said in the PwC report. He is director of marketing planning for OptumHealth, a health management solutions company that is a subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group.

Chris Keating, a physical therapist who manages social media activities for Strive Physical Therapy and Sports Rehabilitation in New Jersey, said Strive’s social media activities give him an outlet to find out what services and events interest people. When he posts photos of an event Strive held in the community, he’ll ask Facebook followers what events, such as screenings for certain medical conditions, they would like to see. It’s a way to get the information you want in a conversational way, he said.

61% of patients say they trust information posted by physicians on social media.
Jessica Logan, social media and online content specialist for the University of California, San Diego Health Sciences marketing and communications department, said she sees a lot of trends developing on Twitter that could indicate a need in the community. For example, she said she has seen a lot of discussion on ulcerative colitis. From a social media content perspective, she knows the community could benefit from her posting more information about that topic. From a business perspective, the conversations could help guide product or service development efforts.

Although a small physician practice might not have the manpower to manage social media efforts, they are at an advantage when it comes to acting on information due to the smaller number of people making decisions. While it would be difficult for a large institution like UC San Diego to institute a program or specialized service immediately, a small practice has that flexibility.

Jason Hwang, MD, an internist and executive director of health care at the Innosight Institute, a San Francisco-based research organization focusing on education and health care, said social media could provide a new way of tracking population health. Tracking health trends is becoming increasingly popular, as many practices move toward medical home and shared savings models. It also could identify “hot spots” for disease outbreaks.

“A hospital or health system could engage social media to see what their patients are talking about and subsequently target those hot spots with certain therapies or interventions,” he said.

Improve customer service
How a physician practice or hospital responds to negative comments and complaints can carry equal or more weight than positive consumer engagement, according to the PwC report. Unlike customer service issues brought to a practice’s attention in a survey, complaints made on social media can be addressed — and often remedied — immediately, because there is an outlet for a dialogue.

Even though specific details should be kept offline, practices can respond in public with an apology and offer to correct the situation so that others can see action being taken. Logan said when other social media users see that a problem is being handled right away, they come to realize that customer service is taken seriously. It also gives the practice a chance to know about situations immediately so they are remedied and not exacerbated by an upset patient.

Gather feedback on medications
Jared Rhoads, senior research analyst with CSC’s Global Institute for Emerging Healthcare Practices, said feedback on therapies is one of the most valuable uses for social media — and possibly one of the easiest to facilitate.

“If 10,000 people start talking about a side effect of a drug, it won’t be that hard to find that out,” he said.

Trends on Twitter sometimes indicate medical needs in the community. Monitoring Twitter buzz surrounding a certain drug, for example, would offer great insight into how patients are reacting to it. Not only is information on side effects useful, but information on therapies that are working well is valuable to physicians, he said. There may be insight about a therapy the physician hasn’t tried, or an alternative therapy he learns about through patient interactions on social media.”

As the social media explosion continues, an increasing number of medical professionals will look to the social networks of Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus to help them communicate with patience and bolster their practices.

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