Social media can destroy or boost hospital reputations

Social media has become so powerful that a healthcare provider's efforts to fully engage with social networks could harm the provider's reputation, contends a new whitepaper from HP Social Media Solutions.

Inaccurate or misleading information easily spreads through social media, so hospitals need a proactive social media policy to quickly counter misperceptions, according to the research announcement.

Beyond that, social networks facilitate disease reporting, educate hard-to-reach populations, help patients find support from others with the same medical condition and make it easier to find subjects for clinical studies, the whitepaper notes.

At the heart of the change is a shift in the doctor-patient relationship, the document notes, asserting that "medical professionals are viewed less as decision-makers and more as expert partners--as one of many sources informing a patient's decisions, rather than the only one." As such, engaged patients "empowered" by social media can be a "powerful factor in improving health and reducing costs."

To leverage this power and reduce the risk of being damaged by social media, providers should constantly monitor social networks and websites for relevant postings, engage to change perceptions and behaviors, and develop and enforce a formal social enterprise strategy and policy, according to the paper.

Challenges include applying analytics to the unstructured nature of social data, including measuring sentiment rather than facts; ensuring no violations of patient privacy; quickly directing social media-based findings to relevant groups within the organization; and keeping up with the evolving ethical, legal and "good manner" norms of social networks.

The paper recommends learning from trail-blazing social media leaders such as the Mayo Clinic and social media policy guidance from professional organizations including the American College of Physician Executives, the American Medical Association and the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.

Social media policies should aim to reduce risk of harm, establish a positive social media presence and be proactive rather than reactive in social networking, the paper recommends.

A recent study published last week in the Journal of Medical Internet Research found that patients who are frequently online are more likely to embrace patient-centered care and participate in their own care.

"When medical professionals attempt to gauge how much information to provide patients or try to decide how much they should involve patients in medical decision-making, they may be better off if they base their decisions on patients' Internet use frequency rather than age, per se," said the researchers from the University of Texas, the University of Florida and the University of Maryland.

For more:
- download the whitepaper (.pdf)
- read the announcement describing the paper