Social Media’s Positive Impact on the Quality of Healthcare

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Social media is a powerful tool that connects you with friends, family, and other loved ones. Over 4.2 billion people use the internet worldwide, and more than 3 billion are active social media users. Social media interactions aren’t limited to personal connections; 80 percent of Instagram users follow at least one business. With all the ads that your Facebook news feed, it’s easy to connect with brands while catching up on friend’s timelines. That being said, does social media have an impact on healthcare?

Many industries have started to realize the value of social media’s capacity to connect with consumers. Platforms help companies increase brand awareness, share information, and partner with industry influencers. Traditional marketing strategies are seeing less emphasis as social media becomes the wave of the future.  

Healthcare has been a bit slower on the uptake. The industry is just starting to acknowledge the undeniable impact social media can have on the quality of healthcare services. This reluctance could be due to the risks to patients and providers that must be taken into consideration. Confidentiality and privacy of patient information be must be upheld at all times. However, social media can get information out to consumers faster than any other tool. Here is a look at the history of social media and the positive impact it can have on healthcare quality.

The Highs and Lows of Social Media

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Social media as we know it started in 1997. Six Degrees was the first social media site that provided individual user profiles. You could “friend” others, much like Facebook. This site had about 1 million users before shutting down in 2000. LinkedIn, a professional networking site, started in 2003. This site gave job seekers a place to post their resumes. Employers could also scout for new staff members on the platform. In February 2004, Mark Zuckerberg and his Harvard roommates started Facebook. Over the next 14 years, the site would attract over 2 billion users. Social media sites continue to pop up, while the staples gain more users daily. Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat are a few other notable apps with hundreds of millions of users each.

Most people use social media as a place to watch funny videos and post pictures of friends and family. Some users post multiple times each day. But, did you know that social media activity can have dire consequences? About 70 percent of employers use social media to screen potential employees during the hiring process. Even once you’re hired, you might not be off the hook — over 40 percent of employers use social media to check on current employees.

Social media posts can even be used in court. Anything you share can be presented to the judge as evidence after car accidents or other events. All public updates are considered legally obtained evidence. So, posting images before, during, or after some situations could help or hinder your case.

Changing the Face of Business

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You might remember the days that marketing consisted primarily of print, television, and radio ads. Companies paid top dollar for peak-hour advertisements. Social media has changed marketing strategies (and costs) for large and small companies. Even solo entrepreneurs have entered the game of social media marketing because it’s a cost-effective strategy.

Some experts believed that people would tire of social media. However, they couldn’t have been more wrong. As it gained popularity, businesses gained more opportunities. In November 2007, Facebook ads were launched, making social media a pay-to-play market. Today, Facebook is one of the most popular ad platforms. Twitter, Tumbler, and LinkedIn are now allowing brand advertisements as well. All of these social media sites provide options for healthcare marketers.

Everything you do on social media can be analyzed to help businesses find their ideal customers. Large tech companies like Google and Facebook collect an extensive amount of data on each user. They track your location, purchases, and other activities. This information is sold to companies for marketing research, eliminating the need for focus groups. This enables healthcare marketers to target individuals with specific conditions — an important consideration for providers offering specific services.

Social media also helps government and public administration offices notify their communities of important events. Americans might receive a notice from the Oval Office about breaking news or emergency alerts. International organizations can keep people aware of severe weather updates or public service announcements.

As businesses and government agencies began reaping the benefits of social media, the healthcare industry took notice.

Embraced by the Medical Community

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A survey revealed some interesting facts about the use of social media. Over 1,500 hospitals across the country have an online social media presence. Hospitals who don’t use social media are missing key opportunities. These systems use social media to communicate with current, past, and future patients. Social media provides an easy way to share information with consumers.

Even providers and other employees are surfing the web. The survey indicates that over 30 percent of healthcare professionals use social media for networking with peers. The majority of physicians use these platforms for activities such as open forums.

Having an online presence provides transparency to consumers and peers. Many providers join platforms like Twitter to become influencers in healthcare. They can explore the industry, make connections, and engage their community.  Amazingly, all of this can be achieved in 280 characters or less.

It’s not only doctors who use social media as interactive marketing. Many nurses, pharmacists, counselors, and therapists have large followings online. These professionals use social media to promote their mission statements and educate people about public health issues. Another notable use of social media is to help people find common ground on critical healthcare topics.

Providers don’t only use social media to gain or share knowledge. More than 60 percent of physicians report that social media improves healthcare quality. This means that doctors believe in the use of social media. It offers a level of authenticity and transparency that isn’t achieved in other formats. Social media connects physicians and entire healthcare systems to patients.

Loved by Healthcare Consumers

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Consumers use social media as a way to find new treatments and advice. Providers must connect with consumers through educational content. This content can be shared to help educate others about health-related topics. Over 40 percent of consumers report that information they find on social media affects their health and wellness decisions. Another 90 percent of people 18 to 24 years old trust medical information they find on social media. This means it’s more important than ever for healthcare experts to be visible online to provide this critical information.

As consumers turn to the internet for data, mobile healthcare is expanding. There are over 320,000 health and fitness apps available. However, not many of them collect data on effectiveness. These apps may not cure chronic disease, but experts believe they can change behaviors. Combine apps with a physician or counselor, and you’re likely to experience an improvement in your health. Many users feel that having an app can help with accountability and access to care and information.

Positive Impact of Social Media

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The medical community is embracing the role social media plays in healthcare. From increasing access to creating a consistent image, hospitals and other providers are opening up new accounts daily. There are many ways social media can help you reach more patients and improve care.

Increasing Access Across Generations

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Many healthcare companies are moving away from traditional advertising techniques. Patients want quick access to information when they need it, from the best ways to reduce your risk of getting the flu to finding new providers.

If you’re worried that you might miss specific patient populations, you can relax. Every generation, including baby boomers, are online. Forbes reported that as of January 2017, 9 percent of all Facebook users were over 55 years of age. This generation is more tech-savvy than you might think. They search for local healthcare services and use Facebook and YouTube for health-related information. Be sure to create marketing plans that serve baby boomers.

Generation X, those born between 1965 and 1980, are also searching for health-related topics. Gen X accounts for 1.5 billion YouTube views each day. This generation is caring for children and aging parents. This means they might search for how to soothe a colicky baby, the best long-term care facilities, and so much more.

Millennials are focused on healthy living. However, they are also cost-conscious consumers. This combination makes them highly open to using social media to find healthcare information. In fact, 93 percent of millennials report that they don’t schedule preventive health visits with their primary providers.

Instead, Gen Yers use urgent care facilities when ill and access advice online. They are likely to turn to their peers on social media or online support groups. They can get 24-hour support from others who have the same or similar experiences. This can also lead them to try new approaches to preventative healthcare. According to a 2014 Nielsen study, millennials search for alternative medicine as a way of healthy living. They often use wellness strategies such as meditation, acupuncture, and natural remedies over pharmaceuticals.

With everyone heading to the web for health-related information, it makes sense that healthcare companies would go there too. By providing accurate and reliable information, providers can engage with consumers and improve their overall wellness.

Creating Authenticity

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Long gone are the days when patients listened to doctors without asking questions. Healthcare consumers are smart and want to have relationships with those who care for them. Allowing one or two tech-savvy employees to share pictures of office or facility events helps to bring a level of humanness to any practice. Offering a “behind the scenes” look will increase consumer engagement and improve overall client satisfaction.

When patients enter the walls of your office and can recognize the receptionist or nurse, it helps them to engage. They relax and might even share the health history a bit more openly when they feel a connection with those in the office.

Keeping an Eye on Competitors

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Many administrators keep a close eye on their largest competitors through social media. They can evaluate community involvement, pain points, and service lines without ever leaving their office. Providers and hospitals can also read feedback on new technologies and procedures competitors are using. This might help them decide if they want to pursue these new approaches to care before making the investment.

Everyone knows that unhappy customers make their feelings known. Administrators can peruse comments on posts about customer service techniques. Not only do you gain insight into poor patient experience, but you can also get ideas on how to develop your own response plans. Take note of what platforms competitors use and where they perform well. This removed some of the guesswork out of where to begin if you’re just ramping up your social media strategy.

Training New Staff

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Have you ever used hashtags? There are many healthcare Twitter hashtags you can use to increase traffic to your site. But, have you considered using hashtags to train new staff?

Some healthcare facilities are creating hashtags for training purposes and for specific groups of staff. Users can share information with one another about new research, hospital policies, and events. Instead of sending everyone to the intranet to get lost for hours, use hashtags to educate employees on new policies and procedures. When staff is up-to-date on the latest information, they can positively impact patient care.

Real-Time Updates

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Social media allows healthcare professionals to communicate situations and possible emergencies quickly. From census notifications to crisis alerts, updates can provide life-saving information. An excellent example of getting real-time information out to the masses can be seen on the World Health Organizations Twitter feed. They provide information on anything from sugar consumption to the latest world or local crises. During disasters, the World Health Organization has used social media to educate individuals on safety measures and where to locate critical resources like food and water.

Another way that real-time updates improve the quality of healthcare is through the use of public health monitoring. Consider the 2018 flu epidemic. Hospitals and government agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention kept the country up-to-date through social media platforms. A quick search for #Flu or #FluView on Twitter revealed when and where new flu cases were popping up across the nation. The ease of access in real-time can save lives.

Gathering Feedback

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Consumers need to communicate quickly with providers. They may need to share a reaction they had to a medication or their thoughts about a recent appointment. Allowing patients to give feedback on social media sites is a simple way to learn how patients perceive the care they received.

Patients might interact through social media messages or live chats. They can provide essential information that improves the way you provide care. Use feedback to track and trend complaints and praise staff members who are recognized by consumers. Providers can also reach out to the patient after they gave feedback. Provide additional education or gather more information from the patient to better guide care.

Social Media for the Future

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Social media might be a newer technology, but it’s here to stay. Consumers are savvy and want information at their fingertips. They need healthcare providers that are responsive and authentic. When providers give consumers what they need, self-care behaviors can improve and wellness flourishes.

Whether you are a solo practitioner or a large academic institution, you need a social media presence. Create a username and begin engaging with your community. Use these strategies to improve the quality of the healthcare you provide.

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Brooke Faulkner

Brooke Faulkner is a mom and writer in the Pacific Northwest. She is passionate about sharing her knowledge about the healthcare industry to help both healthcare providers in providing quality care, and families like hers in getting the healthcare they need.

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