How hospitals can balance social media engagement, patient privacy

While many companies use social media to promote their brand or business, it is often a challenge for hospitals that must balance the need to market their organizations and protect patient privacy in online postings, according to a report in the Yakima Herald.

Hospital spokespeople interviewed by the newspaper said they balance patient privacy and sensitivity concerns with their efforts to engage with patients through social media on web sites such as Facebook. Social media is a way, for instance, to promote a road race a hospital is sponsoring or to let people know about a nurse who won an award, Mary Kay Clunies-Ross, spokeswoman for the Washington State Hospital Association, told the newspaper. 

Healthcare organizations' level of social media activity varies. One 2013 study found that 18 percent of hospitals actively manage Facebook pages, FierceHealthcare previously reported. The Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic posts frequent photos of events and shares clinic job openings on its Facebook page, according to the newspaper. At Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital, a communications specialist monitors the organization's Facebook and Twitter accounts daily and looks over comments it solicits from customers and patients. The hospital also relies on software programs to alert staff when users type hospital-related keywords online.

Yakima Valley Memorial doesn't take down negative messages on its Facebook page if patients are angry about their care, but it would delete any foul language or personal attacks, a spokesman told the newspaper. It also evaluates whether to take patients' posts down for privacy reasons.

In addition to using social media to educate patients and provide information about health initiatives at their facilities, many organizations also use it to manage their online reputations, making it important for providers to monitor their social media accounts, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

While many healthcare organizations attempt to figure out how social media fits into their marketing strategy, more and more healthcare professionals see the benefits. For instance, when Twitter launched in 2006, only 23 healthcare professionals set up accounts, a number that has grown to approximately 75,000 doctors, nurses, pharmacists and consultants who post about healthcare policy, research, medications, and disease treatments, FierceHealthcare previously reported. 

To learn more:
- read the report