By Jeanne Griffin

The answer is very basic and simple. Providers must embrace and become part of the social media space because that’s where many of their patients, potential patients, caregivers, and referral sources spend much of their time.

The number of people involved in social media venues continues to grow. It’s no longer just where young people post photos, talk about themselves, and connect with friends. People of all ages, even grandparents and great-grandparents, have joined the social media revolution and go online to keep up with family and let family know what they’re doing.

Social media is also impacting healthcare. For example, consumers are becoming more educated about healthcare by using social media to ask questions and get answers. Prior to social media, patients usually relied solely on a doctor to tell them what to do. Asking the doctor a question about your care or even seeking a second opinion was not the norm. My parents and grandparents never seemed to question the treatment plan or anything the doctor told them to do. Was it a lack of confidence or information, possibly a feeling of limited options, or all of the above?

Social media has changed the way we approach healthcare in this new day of patient empowerment. Patients now go online to get the information they want and need, which increases their understanding and builds their confidence. They see the vast options available, and their online research includes asking peers, as well as health professionals, for other opinions. Consumers are joining networking groups, such as patientslikeme®, in order to connect to others who have the same condition, and they are sharing information about treatment options, symptoms, and experiences.

Dr. Mark Ryan, founding member of the External Advisory Board for the Mayo Clinic Center on Social Media, refers to this special group of online communicators and health information seekers as “E-patients.” But he defines the “E” as “equipped, enabled, empowered, engaged, equals, emancipated, and experts.” Dr. Ryan sees the use of Internet resources and social media as a method to enhance healthcare for patients and for providers.

E-patients are using online communities as resources that enable them to make informed decisions regarding the services and providers they need and choose to utilize. They’re reviewing provider Websites that contain blogs and health information, and they’re looking to sites such as HealthGrades® and RateMDs.com to gain insight about provider ratings and reviews.

Teresa Pelizzari, Vice President of Quality and Process Improvement at TeamHealth Medical Call Center, implemented processes to ensure that online health information shared with patients during telephone triage is from reliable resources. Ms. Pelizzari states, “We have had many patients mention that they have searched the internet and used social media for help with their health concerns. There’s a wealth of health information available at the touch of their fingertips. The challenge is for the person with health concerns to determine reliable resources and to keep from getting caught up in the unreliable ones. Our call center provides health information from trusted sites for those just seeking information, and for those who have already looked on Internet sites or used social media and have concerning symptoms, we are able to guide them through their symptoms, incorporating their individual health situation to arrive at the appropriate plan of care and advice. We take their concerns a step further in individualizing their situation and providing a plan.”

Almost everyone has heard of “word-of-mouth” advertising. And social media is the new “word-of-mouth” advertising but is very different than the traditional form. Savvy providers offer feedback forums, making it easy for clients to talk about the provider’s services, and many providers are realizing that their reach is unlimited with social media. Conversations and information spread quickly to an infinite number of people.

Sometimes social media and Internet sites can influence attitudes or opinions about a healthcare entity completing unbeknownst by that healthcare provider. For example, a woman who was leaving the Mayo Clinic heard an elderly couple playing the piano in the Mayo Clinic atrium. She asked them to play another song while she videoed their performance on her phone. She later posted the video on YouTube where it received more than 9 million views, including my own. The video so touched me emotionally that it left me with a positive impression of the Mayo Clinic, although the clinic had no input in the production or posting of the video.

With 700,000-plus Twitter followers, the Mayo Clinic is a prime example of a healthcare organization that’s embracing social media. It formed the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media with the mission statement, “Lead the social media revolution in health care, contributing to health and well being for people everywhere.”

Although healthcare providers and organization must consider the risks of social media with regard to individual privacy and inaccurate health information, providers and health organizations should also consider and leverage the benefits and opportunities afforded by the various social media platforms. It is imperative to use the Web, indisputably the key communication platform today, to reach out to patients and support their needs. Through social media, providers and healthcare organizations can:

  1. Communicate with patients and consumers quickly and inexpensively
  2. Promote new programs and services
  3. Share the latest advancements in patient care
  4. Provide patient education
  5. Provide online venues where patient communities can form and connect
  6. Use social media to connect (or reconnect) providers with patients and grow the provider/patient relationship, which in turn increases patient loyalty to the provider and healthcare organization

Healthcare organizations across the country are recognizing that the sky is the limit when geographic and socioeconomic barriers removed through social media. Patients are already talking about providers and healthcare organizations within their social media circles, why not join them and provide some direction to the conversation?

We would like to know how social media has impacted your approach to healthcare. Tell us your story about any of the following:

–          After receiving a diagnosis, what kind of online research did you conduct and what did you learn?

–          Prior to visiting a healthcare professional, have you ever done any online research? Did it impact your decision with regard to your choice of a provider?

–          If you’ve ever commented online about a health-related experience, can you give us an example of what you said?

–          Can you provide an example of how you’ve used the Internet or social media to keep up-to-date on a family member or friend struggling with an illness?

 

Jeanne GriffinJeanne Griffin is the Director of Business Development for TeamHealth Medical Call Center.