Study results suggest that hospitals are making far greater use of social media than they have in the past.
More hospitals are using social media than previously thought, but no one is sure what effect this use is having on patients, according to new research found in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.
The research, which concluded that large, urban, and not-for-profit hospitals were most likely to use these tools, found that use of Facebook, Yelp and Foursquare was almost universal among survey subjects, but that only half of hospitals regularly used Twitter.
Researchers, who are based at the University of Pennsylvania's Penn Social Media and Health Innovation Lab, based their conclusions partly on data from CMS' Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems. They also drew on the American Hospital Association's annual survey.
They found that more than 94% of the 3,371 hospitals studied had Facebook pages, that 99% have a Yelp page and 99.4% had check-ins on Foursquare. However, large, urban, private nonprofit and teaching hospitals were more likely to see higher use of such accounts.
The results suggest that hospitals are making far greater use of social media than they have in the past, researchers said. For example, a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2010 found that 21% of hospitals use social media, with 18% of hospitals maintaining a Facebook account and 16% of Twitter account.
More social media growth is likely
Researchers concede that the data didn't tell them which platform connects hospitals with patients, nor what purpose patients had for interacting with hospitals' social media presences.
But they did predict that consumers will continue to interact with hospitals via these networks, expanding to new portals like Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat. So hospitals will have to meet their stakeholders there, and keep an eye out for hot new platforms, if they want to strengthen their online presence.
Hospitals will also need to make more use of social media to engage patients. Right now, many hospitals use these platforms primarily to reach out to employees, an exercise which may be valuable but doesn't leverage the full power of social media to create brand loyalty and a feeling of connection.
Unfortunately, researchers note, today most hospital postings on social media channels provide not-so-compelling generic observations on employee-related issues and achievements, basically repurposing their press releases.
If they hope to connect with current and potential patients, they may want to study the accomplishments of pioneers like the Mayo Clinic, which for several years has devoted significant resources to its social media strategy. While they may not be ready to create a dedicated social media center, checking out an institution that has one in place is worth a try.
About the author: Anne Zieger is a veteran journalist who’s been covering the U.S. healthcare scene for over 25 years. She provides “News with a Twist,” combining solid reporting with expert insights and analysis. Her opinions are her own. You can follow Anne on Twitter @annezieger.