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Social media savvy: How hospitals use Facebook, Twitter

Report outlines social media opportunities, risks for hospitals

Topics: Online Strategy, Marketing, Communications and Public Relations, HIPAA, Standards and Regulatory Policy, Information Technology

January 23, 2012

More than one thousand hospitals nationwide have embraced social media. But are they using the platforms correctly? The ECRI Institute recently released a report that touts social media opportunities for health care organizations while emphasizing the importance of strategy and risk management.

According to a 2011 National Research Corporation survey of 23,000 people, 41% of respondents reported researching health care decisions using social media tools, with most turning to Facebook and YouTube.

In their report, ECRI researchers identified 1,068 Facebook pages and 814 Twitter feeds associated with hospitals. Most of those accounts are used "as an extension of [hospitals'] existing marketing and public plans." They tend to focus on news about the hospital and its events and services, as well as general medical news and basic consumer outreach.

According to the report, hospitals can use social platforms in a variety of ways. The researchers cite a list compiled by a nurse of 140 ways to use Twitter for health care-related purposes. The list includes simple uses, such as posting news releases, and complex uses, such as live-tweeting a surgery.

However, the report warns that disorganized social media approaches can damage an organization's credibility and reputation. ECRI recommends that health care organizations create a social media plan that outlines the organization's level of social media engagement, its audience, and the employees responsible for managing social media platforms.

It also recommends that organizations:

  • Create social media plans that require appropriate consent and authorizations, as well as compliance with state and federal privacy regulations;
  • Create flexible policies to accommodate new social media; and
  • Include social media in HIPAA training (Pearson, CMIO, 1/19; Conn, Modern Healthcare, 1/19 [subscription required]).

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