There was a time when the word Facebook was uttered only on college campuses. Today’s social media world is quite different. According to a case study on mashable.com, more than 66 percent of adults use at least one social media outlet.
|The next healthcare social media meet-up is scheduled for Aug. 16 at 8 a.m. Space is limited, so attendees should register in advance. To register, visit gobigfishgo.com/healthcaresocialmediameetup. For more information, call 312-3107, ext. 1264.
Facebook is projected to hit 1 billion users this month, with 68 percent 35 and older. The largest percentage of users – 46 percent – are in the 45-plus age range, which may come as a shock to social media cynics. Twitter also attracts people of all ages, with 58 percent age 35 and older. In short, social media is where many healthcare consumers are – all day, every day.
As more medical practitioners join the ranks of social media users, they are finding it to be an effective tool to connect with patients. But many physicians still approach the social media realm with skepticism, fearing the approach could violate HIPAA, detract from professionalism or result in negative discussions about their practice.
Bigfish Creative recently hosted a healthcare social media meet-up to discuss these very topics. The group was born out of a weekly Sunday evening Twitter chat –#hcsm – and Bigfish decided to bring local healthcare professionals together to continue the conversations in person.
The group discussed strategies for effective Facebook and Twitter usage and agreed that followers want a combination of three types of posts; relevant health tips, engaging questions and personal/fun information about their health providers.
Brad Cole, DC, MS CSCS, of Cole Pain Therapy Group, mentioned one of their more popular posts; a photo from a staff birthday party, complete with a cake, fire extinguisher and a joke about being prepared while lighting the many candles.
Addie McGowan, Bigfish social media director, explained, “Social media breaks down barriers. People read posts and recognize ‘that’s MY doctor’ and feel more connected. It’s important to have a balance between informational and fun posts.”
Bigfish works directly with Pediatrics East and the McDonald Murrmann Women’s Clinic to manage their social media efforts. Other practices have staff members who oversee social media, such as Memphis Orthopedic Group (MOG) and Pediatric Consultants, P.C. As MOG’s Michelle Hodges explained, “With rapid changes in technology and increased social media usage, you really can’t afford not to use social media. It’s important to be where your customers are.”
What about the risk that followers could make negative comments? Sure, the possibility exists, but that’s true no matter what. People already vent about negative customer service experiences through social networks and personal conversations, and that’s not going to change. However, if they do so in a public forum like a group Facebook page, the practice has the opportunity to address the issue, proving they take patients’ concerns seriously. That kind of proactive interaction goes a long way in building relationships.
McGowan cited a scenario in which a patient was upset about her wait time and voiced her frustration on the practice’s Facebook wall while sitting in the waiting room. Bigfish notified the office manager, who immediately went to the waiting room to explain the delay and apologize for the inconvenience. The patient was grateful for the quick response and appreciated that her concerns were heard and acknowledged. Thanks to social media, the staff was able to quickly turn a negative situation into a positive one. Social media isn’t just a means for damage control. Practices often share positive feedback with office staff, which serves to boost morale and assure employees that their efforts are valued.
With nearly 2,000 Facebook fans and 750 Twitter followers, Pediatrics Consultants can quickly reach patients with important information, which came in handy during the H1N1 vaccine shortages in 2009. They posted on Facebook and Twitter when new shipments came in, and patients often arrived before the staff had even unpacked the vaccine. Keeping with the theory that balance is key, they also share lighter news; 28 people made congratulatory comments on a photo of one physician’s new grandchild. Similarly, Pediatrics East had an overwhelming response when parents were asked to help name the practice’s new mascot.
Most of McDonald Murrmann’s physicians use social media and see the value of reaching patients in an informal environment. The practice uses Facebook ads to draw new followers to the page, and patients can even access an ultrasound coupon on the page. One personalized feature of their page is the “We Love Babies” album, which allows parents to post photos of their children as they grow.
Social media is not a substitute for actual medical care, and physicians should be cautious not to provide personalized medical advice via social networks. A formal policy is recommended, and it can simply be an extension of the practice’s existing employee code of conduct.
“Social media is like a cocktail party,” Brad Cole said. “You’re not anonymous; you’re an extension of the practice.”
For those who still think social media is just for college students, Lelon O. Edwards, MD, 57, of Pediatrics East knows the feeling. Edwards, affectionately known as Dr. Bubba by his patients, admitted to initial reservation, simply because he didn’t know much about it. He quickly realized the benefits of connecting with parents. “It’s like having your own fan club. It’s free and powerful – what more could you ask for?”