Hospital Impact: 6 tips for using digital media to reach and engage patients

In order for hospitals to be heard over the "noise" of all of today's digital media, they must find unique ways to provide information to patients that resonates with them.

In today’s always-on world, your organization is competing for mindshare with programming on TV and Netflix, Facebook posts from friends, images on Pinterest and Instagram, and the noise of everyday life. The problem facing hospitals is how to be heard over the noise and provide information that resonates with patients.

You have to ask yourself: Do your communications sound like a college professor (dry and academic) or are they generic and sound like every other hospital in your community? It’s important to find the tone that’s unique to your organization and provides value to your community. The key is making the most of digital media.

Get to know your audience

Conduct a quick online survey or have patients complete surveys while they’re waiting to see their doctor. The goal is to learn how your patients want to be contacted, where they go for health information and what information they want to receive. This information will not only help you customize a communications program that meets their needs, it also shows patients that you care about what they think and want to take steps to meet their needs.

Make your online portal a destination

Patients go to your hospital’s online portal to share medical information and receive test results. However, most portals aren’t destinations; they’re simply a secure post office to send and receive information. Consider transforming your online portal into another digital media channel. Post educational content on your portal, as well as links to useful groups and websites. Or post customer success stories—just be sure to have patients sign a release form and if you choose not to publish names, make sure not to include identifiable information.

The medium is the message

It’s important to use the right channel to reach different audiences. For example, millennials and GenXers are the biggest users of Facebook, so content on these channels should be user-friendly information geared to young adults and parents. By the same token, the best way to reach teens and millennials is via texting, and email is the best way to reach the 65-and-older crowd. It’s also important to customize your messages for each medium, since one size won’t fit all. It’s interesting to note that while marketers haven’t focused on GenXers (ages 33-40), according to data compiled by Marketing Charts, they spend the most time texting, browsing and talking on their mobile phones. Maybe it’s because most parents are GenXers, and they’re using mobile tech as a way to balance work and family.

A picture is worth a thousand words

It’s a basic rule of thumb that images help bring social media posts to life. They help make posts stand out on a Twitter feed and make blog posts look more inviting. It’s important to always use high-quality images. If possible, use original photography or subscribe to a stock photography site like Shutterstock. Just be sure not to pull images from published articles on the internet. There’s nothing worse than having one of the big stock image companies send you a bill for copyright infringement.

Make the most of email

GenXers, baby boomers and people older than 65 prefer email as a communications medium, according to research from Marketing Sherpa. In the past, providers have been afraid to use texting and email to communicate with patients because they were afraid of breaking Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) rules.

The good news is that in this era of telemedicine and video chat, these fears are dissipating. In fact, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services clarified that HIPAA allows healthcare providers to communicate electronically with their patients, as long as they apply reasonable safeguards.

The San Francisco Department of Public Health published a memo earlier this year that outlined best practices for healthcare providers emailing patients. These included:

  1. Only use work email: Do not use your personal email account to communicate with patients.
  2. Make sure email is secure: Use only an encrypted electronic messaging system.
  3. Don’t include the patient’s name or personal health information (PHI) in the subject line
  4. Take extra care regarding sensitive test results: Be sure to check state laws about how test information can be shared.
  5. Document in the patient’s medical record: Electronic messages that contain ePHI must be stored in a secure manner and entered into the patient’s medical record.

Texting may not be pretty, but it’s effective

Texting has become a primary form of communication for Americans. In fact, American adults younger than 45 send and receive an average of 2,550 messages a month, or about 85 text messages per day, according to research from Experian.

They also receive text messages to remind them of their car and dentist appointments—and they expect (and want) the same kind of service from their doctors.

The good news is that there are secure messaging apps that providers can use to communicate directly with patients, notes a post from Barton Associates. These include apps like TigerText, gligConnect and Cortext by Imprivata that are available on iOS and Android.

Finding new ways to embrace digital communications not only helps to position your hospital with our community, it also help increase patient satisfaction.

Jenn Riggle is the senior director of public relations for Compass Professional Health Services.