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    October 8, 2012 // 1:00 AM

    Healthcare Marketing: Humanizing Hospitals and Physicians Through Social Media

    Written by Caitlin Mooney | @

    healthcare-marketingCompared to other areas of business, healthcare marketers tend to fall behind in the realm of social media. Part of this problem is figuring out how to walk the fine line between the casual nature of social media, the seriousness of healthcare and the well-being of patients.

    It is important for hospitals to be reputable, but not all content shared through a social media account needs to be formal. Think of social media as a place to promote a lifestyle and attract people with similar interests, rather than as a daily newsletter for your hospital or physician group.

    It’s important to mix up content with interesting articles you find on other blogs, infographics, recipes and funny pictures. It’s okay to make people laugh; you need to come across as human, rather than a robot churning out posts that were preloaded months in advance.

    Showing your human side is especially relevant in healthcare to make patients more comfortable and feel like they have a deeper connection with their doctors and nurses. It will also encourage patients to take more responsibility in managing their health.

    If you need help convincing your CEO that social marketing is worth the time and money, check out the new Health Care Social Media List from The Mayo Clinic. It is a compilation of hospitals, physician practices and other health-related organizations in the United States that are actively using social media. You can use this list to see how you stack up against the competition.

    However, it’s important to note that the marketing department isn’t the only staff group at a hospital that needs an online presence. Physicians are now using social media to connect with patients professionally, although some have reservations about this new medium.

    Many physicians shy away from using social media to communicate with patients because they are afraid of violating HIPAA. Although this is a valid concern, the truth is that the odds of a physician violating HIPAA on social media are the same as in any other environment, including within the hospital and at a social event.

    Nicola Ziady explains that HIPAA (in relation to marketing) simply restricts hospitals or physician groups from using private patient information to promote products or services without written permission, and that a patient may “revoke a written authorization at any time.”

    Keeping that in mind, Leigh McMillan advises physicians not to talk about patients, even without stating their names, on social networks. This doesn’t mean that you can’t get inspiration for a post from one of your patients, but make the illness or condition the subject rather than featuring the patient.

    Once a post or tweet is complete, McMillan recommends applying the “elevator test” before submitting. This means that you should read the post out loud, and if there is any part that you would not be comfortable saying in public, you should not publish it online.

    There are two main reasons physicians should take the time to develop an online presence through social media, websites and blogs. The first is to build relationships with patients, and the second is for reputation management.

    According to a survey conducted by Avvo, 73 percent of patients research physicians online, and a survey conducted by the National Research Corporation showed that 41 percent of patients search for medical information on social media sites. These e-patients search for and read patient reviews, disciplinary history, physicians’ resumes and published articles in order to make an informed decision rather than relying on referrals or word-of-mouth.

    Dr. Howard Luks, a member of the External Advisory Board for the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media, said: “The most meaningful reason to establish a presence is that patients can find you and perhaps learn a bit more about your perspective, approach and rapport with your patient base.”

    Another advantage to establishing an online presence is reputation management. Creating content on a blog, Facebook page or Twitter account won’t prevent patients from making negative comments, but it will “drown out or dilute content or comments that exist on many of these physician grading platforms when a patient performs a Google search of your name,” Dr. Luks said. If you have a website that generates content, you can control your messages and ensure that a lot of quality information will pop up in the first page of your Google search.

    While healthcare marketers still have some catching up to do, a lot of progress has been made. In the Mayo Clinic’s Health Care Social Media List there are 1,500 hospitals alone that actively use social media accounts to improve brand reputation and retain patients. As an industry, we are on our way to developing best practices through exploration of new platforms and shared successes (and failures).

    Topics: Social Media Marketing & Advertising

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