Social media has become widely used by individuals and businesses to stay connected, communicate and even market products or services. As these sites evolve and become a prevalent way of reaching out to consumers, healthcare professionals are finding new, effective ways to utilize social media.
Social Media and Healthcare
Many healthcare managers are working to effectively utilize social media to engage patients and consumers. Through effective marketing and communication tactics, organizations are able to move away from traditional advertising techniques, and use the internet to connect with consumers in the healthcare field. Consumers heavily rely on information found online and use the internet to gather healthcare information and connect with other patients to garner support and learn about similar conditions. Others utilize these resources for research or to share experiences with healthcare providers and other related organizations. Patients also have a tendency to seek information via social media that assists in the selection of doctors, specialists and hospitals to make informed decisions on the best practices to seek care. Individuals will use social media to post reviews or other comments that support or possibly deter others from choosing that type of healthcare in the future. It is essential for providers to be active on social media and provide accurate information, connect with readers and implement marketing techniques where applicable.
Avoiding HIPAA Violations
The Healthcare Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was enacted by Congress in 1996 with the intent of providing patients more control over their healthcare records. HIPPA encompasses a variety of key points including:
- Reducing healthcare fraud
- Implementing industry-wide standards for information provided on electronic billing
- Providing health insurance to individuals that are changing or have lost their jobs
In terms of protecting healthcare information, HIPPA sets guidelines that pertain to the protection and confidential handling of an individual’s health records. These guidelines have become somewhat of an issue in terms of social media. Healthcare professionals cannot directly address patients through these outlets as it violates the privacy and confidentiality regulations outlined by HIPPA. Other healthcare facilities are encouraged to implement strict policies and guidelines for what employees are allowed to post on social networking websites. Some ways to avoid HIPPA violations include:
- Distribute clear social networking policies to employees
- Avoid any discussion of patients, even in general terms
- Speak generally about conditions and treatments
- Prominently post your policies and procedures on all social media platforms
- Do not practice medicine online by responding to patients offline
Utilizing Social Media
There is a variety of ways that healthcare managers are utilizing social media to enhance their services and provide patients with accurate medical information. Here are the top ways professionals in the field are using social media:
#1: Share Information
Social media is intended to provide individuals the ability to access information quickly and communicate with others. Healthcare organizations utilize these tools and websites to share information with consumers in a variety of ways such as sharing general information about flu shots and tips to avoid a cold. Sharing news regarding outbreaks or health hazards is an effective way for healthcare facilities to provide accurate information to patients. It is important to note that all patient specific information requires permission along with a signed release. Other forms of sharing information through social media include:
- Provide updates on new technologies
- Introduce new doctors in a practice on social networks
- Answer questions on various topics (e.g. how to reach doctors or hours of operation)
- Deliver generic pre- and post- operative care information
- Offer patients any updates that relate to the practice itself
#2: Compare and Improve Quality
Another effective way that healthcare managers utilize social media is by spending time evaluating their competitors to get an insight into the services they offer and overall patient satisfaction. By taking a look into different practices and their social media involvement, professionals have the ability to mimic these methods to enhance their own. Some organizations will do better through social media; providers can determine whether or not they need to take more appropriate action to quickly respond to patient requests and improve customer service.
To gather feedback and improve quality, social media interaction can provide doctors and physicians with immediate responses from individuals to help understand common reactions to medications, as well as overall consensus from patients on new techniques in the industry. Using this information that is readily available on social media allows for healthcare organizations to learn from patient reactions and adjust accordingly. By following feedback on these sites, healthcare professionals also have the opportunity to evaluate the possibility of additional services in the industry.
#3: Train Medical Personnel
Some healthcare organizations have begun to utilize social media channels as part of their training process. During presentations, trainees are encouraged to use certain hash tags on Twitter or join other groups to engage one another to make training processes more enjoyable and interactive. These training techniques provide trainees a central location to ask questions and quickly receive answers. Social media gives participants the power to provide presenters with immediate feedback on training sessions.
Trainees are not the only people who benefit from this social media technique. Organizations can use training videos and pictures from training sessions to engage audiences and enhance their social media channels by marketing their facilities and exemplifying their innovating training processes.
#4: Live Updates during Procedures
Although somewhat controversial, there has been an increase of doctors and surgeons providing updates from the operating room. Through Twitter and other social media outlets, healthcare professionals have the ability to deliver up–to-date information during procedures to fellow doctors, medical students or simply curious individuals. Some say these updates are a distraction in the operating room, while others argue that it is an innovation and provides educational value that should be embraced.
The use of social media during operations also provides healthcare facilities the ability to gain attention from industry specific outlets as well as mainstream media. As a marketing approach, organizations create a buzz on social media with these updates, creating excitement and enhancing public awareness of an individual organization to attract patients and medical personnel.
#5: Communicate in Times of Crisis
In times of crisis, the use of social media has increased to provide minute-by-minute information to consumers. Through social media, hospitals and other organizations are able to deliver real-time updates on hospital capacity, operation status and emergency room access. Having an active social media presence allows healthcare professionals to pass along information shared by organizations such as the Red Cross, and the Centers for Disease Control or communicate with news outlets.
As social media continues to become a valuable asset to healthcare organizations and new methods of use are implemented, the industry requires administrators to set guidelines and procedures for effectively managing these channels. To provide the best customer service and accurate information while adhering to HIPAA regulations, organizations need individuals versed in the healthcare administration. For those interested in pursuing an online Master of Health Administration, The University of Scranton provides the most effective tools and resources to advance a healthcare career.