Businesses that ignore social media channels for marketing and public relations do so to their own detriment. The same holds true for health care providers. Indeed, the past five years have seen explosive growth in the number of hospitals that use social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to enhance their reputation and build their brand.
"Strategic postings, photos and links to videos can raise awareness of a hospital's specialties and enhance its reputation"
Hospitals make the best of use of social media, along with their own websites and blogs, when they provide useful information and engage consumers. Social media can play a vital role in creating an identity, branding, and building trust and loyalty among health care consumers.
Even before considering Facebook and other outlets, the first step is to ensure that a hospital's website is optimized to be as functional and effective as possible. Along with SEO, appealing design and great content are fundamental. A hospital or health system's website is often the consumer's first exposure to the provider.
At Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS), a specialty hospital devoted to the care of patients with musculoskeletal conditions, our goal is to be a valuable and trusted resource by providing comprehensive information in our specialties of orthopedics, rheumatology and rehabilitation. We continually update the website with fresh content, photos and videos to maintain consumer interest.
While many people in the New York metropolitan area are familiar with our hospital, the challenge is to attract patients from across the country and around the world who could benefit from the highly specialized care the hospital provides.
The HSS website plays a key role in the marketing campaign. The goal is to communicate that the hospital's doors are open to the most difficult and challenging cases; that the sheer volume of procedures and laser focus on orthopedics are unmatched; that people who have lost hope could get a second chance at HSS.
How do you communicate these messages? To start, reputable third-party endorsements are prominently featured on the home page. One such example is the hospital's No. 1 ranking in Orthopedics by U.S. News & World Report.
Another major feature on the home page is "Back in the Game," an interactive portal that invites patients to post their own photos and personal stories about how HSS helped them get "back in the game" of life. The feature went live on February 2, 2015, and by the one-year anniversary of the site, more than 1,200 patients had posted their inspiring stories and photos.
In addition to boosting current patient engagement, "Back in the Game" enables a more personal connection with visitors to the site who may be inspired by the patient stories and can see how the hospital helps others.
Ninety percent of consumers indicate that they trust peer recommendations in decision-making. The thought of having spine surgery, for example, can be frightening, but reading about someone who had a successful outcome makes the prospect less foreboding.
Each physician at Hospital for Special Surgery has a profile page with information about his or her practice and specialties; education and qualifications; and links to news reports and videos in which the doctor has been featured. Some of the videos are posted on YouTube, as well.
The hospital's blog features useful information on topics ranging from injury prevention to hip fractures to medication choices for treating rheumatoid arthritis. Blogs are an excellent way to feature hospital experts. A blog on revision joint replacement surgery, a rather esoteric topic, prompted 30 comments, with many consumers asking about booking an appointment. Hospital staff responds to comments and question. The HSS blog has had more than 900,000 unique visitors since its inception.
The hospital's eConsult second opinion service is another way to potentially reach people outside of the New York metropolitan area. Second opinions are provided, for a fee, by an HSS expert specializing in the consumer's particular medical condition.
Hospital for Special Surgery's target audience is not only consumers, but health care professionals, as well. Physicians often refer patients to HSS for specialized care. The hospital's eAcademy is a digital platform for the distribution of educational and academic programs through live streaming and offerings on demand. Most of the content is free of charge.
In addition to their own websites, increasing numbers of health providers are using Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and other platforms to reach consumers. Surveys show that the use of Facebook among hospitals has soared since 2010, with good reason. Strategic postings, photos and links to videos can raise awareness of a hospital's specialties and enhance its reputation.
But that's not all. Good content can make an institution seem less clinical and more accessible. The best Facebook accounts are not advertisements for a hospital; they contain interesting information and links to attract followers and increase loyalty.
Facebook chats are another opportunity to reach potential patients. For example, Hospital for Special Surgery partnered with the nonprofit S.L.E. Lupus Foundation. Both publicized the chat beforehand, resulting in excellent participation. Hospital rheumatologists and the foundation's director of social services answered numerous questions on lupus.
YouTube, with its strong showing in online searches, is an excellent venue for patient stories and videos featuring experts. The challenge is to make one's content stand out. Twitter can be used not only to communicate with followers, but to monitor what people are saying about the hospital.
Indeed, increased visibility via social media channels isn't the only benefit. Hospitals can acquire valuable information with regard to patient satisfaction. Comments on Facebook and Twitter enable organizations to collect information in real time. By obtaining feedback via social media on what patients want and need, hospitals can make changes for the better. Hospital for Special Surgery has staff who monitor comments, responding when appropriate.
When searching the name of a physician or hospital online, Healthgrades.com is often on page one. Consumers are increasingly getting information from Healthgrades, Vitals.com and other websites that rate doctors and hospitals based on patient reviews. These sites, too, can provide institutions with valuable insights.
State and federal websites, such as Hospital Compare based on the HCAHPS patient survey, are not only useful to consumers when deciding on a hospital. The information can help providers see where they need to improve and how their scores compare to those of their peers.
One can only hope that social media networks and the availability of so much information online will lead to greater accountability on the part of healthcare providers, and ultimately, to better patient care.