Hospitals in the United States have recently been flocking to social media to communicate with their patients, raise awareness of issues and create loyalty.
We are now seeing more and more medical establishments on social media. A study by Professor Peter Vries, a researcher at the University of Houston, reveals that there are currently 871 hospitals and medical centres in the United States alone which have an account on at least one social site. This movement is in line with the growing numbers of people who use the Internet to put forward their opinions and share information via online platforms. While medical institutions are obviously providing a public service, the aim of these establishments in using social media is nevertheless the same as a profit-making company – i.e. to ensure they get the best possible publicity and maintain or enhance their reputation.
Multiple platforms to highlight services
The study’s findings show that 20% of medical sector organisations have either a Twitter account or a Facebook profile. This is near the median among the various industries cited, and is greater than the automotive, insurance or transport sectors. At the end of 2010 the exposure of the 871 US hospitals using social media broke down as follows: 648 reported they had a Twitter account, 679 a Facebook account, and 417 a LinkedIn profile. Add to these the 421 YouTube channels and 94 blogs and that works out at a total of 2,259 social media pages being used by the medical sector. Moreover, using multiple platforms seems to be the order of the day. The Methodist Hospital in Houston is a good example of a medical institution with a flourishing social media project. This hospital uses its Facebook page not only to promote its services and community events, but also to provide healthcare advice.
Putting patients and doctors in touch to avoid misinformation
The Methodist Hospital in Houston also runs a blog that helps people with nutrition and weight management, and provides an opportunity for direct follow-up with healthcare professionals. In addition, the hospital has a Facebook page solely dedicated to its Centre for Liver Disease and Transplantation that provides information for transplant patients.Its value lies not only in posting general information and explanatory videos; it also brings in former transplant patients to share their experiences and puts them in touch with patients waiting for a transplant. The study points out that the presence of medical establishments on social networks does more than simply promote their services – it also gives patients a structured basis for gathering information, which will make them less likely to turn to self-medication, relying on help from non-specialised and badly-informed websites.