Why hospital social media matters

When a patient at the Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals' Headache Center complained on Twitter about a long wait, Jefferson Director of Social Media Josh Goldstein was monitoring the Jefferson brand on Twitter at the time. Goldstein, who was off campus, immediately texted the interactive marketing team to go the waiting room and find the patient. It turned out the patient had never signed in at the computer kiosk.

The matter was resolved in only a matter of minutes, demonstrating the power of social media and the evolution of customer experience, Vaughn Kauffman, principal and payer sector advisory leader in PriceWaterhouseCoopers's health industries practice, said during last week's Fierce webinar.

Evolving from social media marketing to social media strategy
With half of all adults on social media sites in 2011, dramatically up from 5 percent in 2005, hospitals can leverage that technology to reach their patients.

"Consumers are already engaging in this space with each other at a high frequency," Kauffman explained. "It really is an opportunity for health industry companies to take advantage of this channel of access."

It may be difficult to win over hospital leaders to join in a social media strategy, particularly those who don't Tweet themselves, viewing it as strictly for the "the kids," but it's important to start thinking about where the patients are.

"Age level right now really has the greatest impact on social media activity," according to Serena Foong, senior manager in PwC's Health Research Institute. An overwhelming 90 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds engage in health social media, according to a PwC report in April. But those users will eventually grow up. "If you look 10 to 15 years out as the younger patients grow older, age is going to become a less of a factor" she added.

Moving toward patient-centeredness

Although hospitals have varying levels of participation on social media, hospitals that listen to their customers leverage it internally and make it part of their operations, Kaufmann noted.

"Companies that do this well and are proactive draw on new ideas from products and services and really use patient-reported health information to inform their business strategy. Social media is pulling together an otherwise very cottage industry with putting their patients and their information at the center of the conversation," Kaufmann said.

While consumers are talking on social media community sites 24/7, business activity isn't as high, according to PwC's review of a week's worth of social media monitoring in February. The snapshot showed that "the activity on consumer community sites was 24 times the volume of the activity on healthcare company sites," Foong (pictured) said. "The activity is going on 24/7 on these consumer community sites, whereas on the business side, the activity really went to an all-time low on the weekends."

Jefferson Hospitals was able to offer a quick response to the headache center patient. Today's hospitals face a population of patients accustomed to instant-gratification. When consumers post a complaint about a service, product or experience, 66 percent of them expect a follow-up response from the healthcare organization within 24 hours, according to PwC data. Thirty-nine of them expect a response within a few hours, and more than a fifth (22 percent) expect an answer within an hour.

Kaufman notes that it's important to have someone on the other end to handle that interaction.

Don't sit idle
Although it's easy to be paralyzed with fear about uncharted territories into social media, the worst thing is to do nothing, Kauffman warned about sitting idle.

Despite concerns that social media will solicit negative conversations, the majority of mentions across all organization types (providers, insurers and pharma companies) were neutral, and only 5 percent were negative, according to PwC tracking of a week in February.


"One of the greatest risks of social media is ignoring social media."

Don Sinko, Cleveland Clinic chief integrity officer

If there's a negative post on Cleveland Clinic's social media outlets, for example, whether that's Facebook, Twitter or blogs, the health system has a process to respond privately and publicly within a designated amount of time, the report noted.

Kauffman quoted Cleveland Clinic Chief Integrity Officer Don Sinko in the April report: "One of the greatest risks of social media is ignoring social media. … It's out there, and people are using it whether you like it or not. You don't know what you don't know."

For more information:
- Watch the recorded presentation "Social media 'likes' healthcare: From marketing to social business" on-demand (registration required)