Hospitals embrace social media, but have yet to realize its full benefits

The use of social media among U.S. hospitals is greater than previously thought, although its impact on patients and populations remains unknown, according to new research published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

Researchers, led by Heather M. Griffis, Ph.D., of the Penn Social Media and Health Innovation Lab, University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, reviewed hospital-related activity on four social media platforms: Facebook, Twitter, Yelp and Foursquare. Hospitals that reported complete data for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems survey and the American Hospital Hospital's annual survey were included in the assessment. The research team estimated the use of social media based on specific user activity, such as the number of Facebook likes and Twitter followers.

More than 94 percent of the 3,371 hospitals studied have Facebook pages and 50 percent have a Twitter account. Most have a Yelp page (99 percent) and check-ins on Foursquare (99.4 percent). However, large, urban, private nonprofit and teaching hospitals were more likely to have higher use of these accounts.

Compared to the results of prior studies, researchers said the latest study shows a dramatic growth of social media adoption among hospitals. For example, in a random sample of U.S. hospitals, an Annals of Internal Medicine study found 21 percent of hospitals used social media in 2010. At the time, 18 percent of hospitals maintained a Facebook account and 16 percent had a Twitter account.

"Three years later, our study demonstrates significantly higher percentages of hospitals with social media accounts," researchers wrote. "Additionally, a study of hospitals in Western Europe showed that social media use is growing, with Facebook being the most popular social media platform--67 percent of hospitals in Western Europe had a Facebook account. This dramatic increase in social media use may show the increasing value of social media to hospitals to potentially improve market share, engage with patients, increase profitability, or advance their missions in health and healthcare."

Researchers said it's unclear which platform best connects hospitals with patients and for what purpose, but consumers will likely continue to interact with hospitals through social media, using new portals like Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat.

Furthermore, they concluded, social media platforms give hospitals the ability to respond to patients and collect data in real time, which means organizations can potentially assess quality and other metrics faster using these platforms instead of traditional survey formats.

Hospitals have yet to realize the full potential of social media, however. A 2013 study found that hospitals don't make the most of social media platforms and primarily use them to engage employees instead of patients, FierceHealthcare previously reported. Most hospital postings provided generic observations or employee-related issues and achievements, which defeat the purpose of the platforms, researchers found.

To learn more:
- here's the research paper