Social Media, Medicine, and NonProfits

If online technology was in the fashion world, social media would be considered the new black.  It is the latest little must have article of clothing that you can mix and match with other things in your wardrobe.  However, just because it is can be easily used and applied to a lot of things, doesn’t mean it should be used for every occasion. 

So how do you know if social media applications like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. are for you or your organization?  Well what do you plan on using it for?  In other words why would use it, what are your goals?  You don’t want to be using any application (including social applications) just for the sake of using them.  The folks over at TechSoup have an interesting webinar on Understanding the ROI of Social Networking in which they not only discuss the idea of setting specific goals, but also how you can measure your success and the return of investment of the project. 

Hospitals, medical organizations, and academic medical centers are jumping into the social media arena.  I am a part of the social media group at my institution where our hospital is actively using social media and planning social media technology, goals, and events.  We meet every month and people from various departments are at the meeting, everybody from the Executive Board, IT, marketing, education, alumni relations, etc.  We are on Facebook and have a Twitter feed. 

So why would this be important to hospitals?  Well there is the marketing and public relations side of things.  Hospitals love getting their name out there, love driving interest to their facilities.  But there might be other areas that we have not considered, for example, do social hospitals have better HCAHPS scores?  HCAHPS is the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systemsthat surveys patients’ persepectives of hospital care and their hospital experience.    In the post on the Social Hospital, John Domansky a hospital CFO, believes a “hospital that has adopted social media tools to better communicate with their patients, employees, medical staff, and community reflects an organization culture of superior communication.”  Because the many of the publicly reported HCAHPS questions focused on communication, it would stand to reason that institution that prides itself on good communication would have good HCAHPS scores.  Domansky says, “These very same characteristics mirror the basic principles of social media, ‘communicate well, listen, and explain.”  He continues to investigate this idea by looking at and comparing the HCAHPS scores of hospitals that use social media and ones that don’t use it. 

I wouldn’t say that getting on Twitter will improve your HCAHPS scores.  I don’t think you can take an organization with poor communication procedures and have them slap up a Twitter feed or Facebook page and expect good scores or good patient experience.  But I think institutions who are already good at communicating are already looking at ways to communicate better and social media is one of those was of improving  communication, thus would have good HCAHPS scores. 

Communication is a great thing, but new methods and new ways to contact people and organizations or communicate feelings and thoughts about people and organizations can be tricky until one learns their appropriate boundaries and creates the appropriate social media persona.  For a regular person it can be tricky.  I have only recently begun to find my social media persona.  years ago when I started this blog I made a conscious decision that it would be primarily professional not personal.  Well lines began to blur when I got on Facebook and started using Twitter.  Personal updates that my friends and family would be interested it, were co-mingling with professional things.  Only recently did I sort my social persona out.  I post personal information on Facebook and mainly professional posts go on Twitter (those feeds are also re-posted on Facebook).  The blog, which will always be my more professional side, will post a link both on Twitter and Facebook (believe it or not I have some family that are interest in my blog posts).  So I guess if you look at it for my social persona, Facebook is the most personal, Twitter is more professional with a smattering of personal, and the blog is the most profession with little personal.  All three areas link upon each other but I think I have set up distinct areas.

For those in certain professions like a doctor, nurse, lawyer, teacher, etc. it can be even more tricky.  A recent article in NEJM, “Practicing Medicine in the Age of Facebook,” recounts one physician’s experience where the blurring of the lines of professional and personal communication. 

Organizations such as hospitals or libraries don’t have to worry as much about their personal/professional image, but they still have to worry about the communication and what they are going to say and how they are going to do it.  The Internet and the social media sites are rife with examples of how not to do something.  Unfortunately many of these examples were made live, and some of the companies suffered for their blunders.  Not doing one’s homework on how a organization should operate with social media is a big blunder, but second to that is not having a clear goal on what the social media technology will help accomplish.  Just slapping up a Twitter feed and Facebook page without know why is bad.  That is why it would be a good idea to not only investigate the hows of doing it, but the whys.  Once you have the whys you can then measure whether it was successful and whether you should continue by looking at its return on investment.

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