Social Media Considerations in Health Care

posted by Pivotal Health Solutions on Friday, July 31, 2015

Social media has primed us all for immediate response, but in health care, where patient privacy rules do still apply, social media can become a minefield for health care workers. 

Health care marketers should take an active role in educating themselves and staff about what can and can't be done via social media. Here's how to make that happen:

1) Put together a social media team. It all starts with a qualified and well-staffed social media team to help develop a social media strategy, then plan, execute and oversee that strategy. The team also must have the authority to enforce standards and the ability to judge and appropriately step into emerging issues.

2) Develop a policy. The American Medical Assocation and other health care organizations offer examples of social media policies that your facility can draw from. Just make sure that the policy is written in clear and easily understood language, and that it covers both internal and external audiences. 

3) Train staff. Educate your staff when they join your organization and periodically, too. Provide relevant examples from recent news of appropriate versus inappropriate social media, but also educate them about successful social media campaigns to spur engagement and ideas for social media sites. 

4) Plan for issues or disasters. Just like disaster planning, have a plan in place in the event a certain social media crisis occurs, including roles, responsibilities, actions and messaging.

5) Develop key partnerships. The social media team members should have partnerships with staff from throughout the institution, so that they can turn to these resources for information and help handle issues, questions or customer needs when they occur. 

Finally, social media is always changing. Your social media policy and tactics should change too in response. Make sure you continue to review your policies and procedures so that they reflect what's going on in social media now. 

A patient’s family excoriates ER staff for perceived poor service across multiple social media platforms, generating waves of likes, retweets and shares.

A caretaker with a heart of gold shares encouraging sentiments with a patient via a social site – and breaches HIPAA.

An inappropriate video of a patient goes viral – resulting in massive media coverage and a lawsuit.

Social media is a pivotal element in health care marketing, and an essential tool for patient education and relationship development. It’s also a de facto customer service platform, and therefore both a vital channel for and potential impetus to crisis communications. If it hasn’t already happened, soon someone will try to tweet for emergency care, expecting immediate response.

Consumer digital expectations can run up against the patient privacy protections. Meanwhile, providers and staff may not realize how broadly privacy protections apply. Several well-publicized cases have demonstrated that any details allowing a patient to be identified can be sufficient grounds for litigation, professional sanctions, and even firing. This complexity makes it vital for healthcare organizations to invest in the strategy, governance, and vigilance to deliver a positive and responsible social media presence and corresponding digital crisis communications capacity. 

This article excerpt, by Anna-Marie Montague, originally appeared here:


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At Pivotal Health Solutions, our story starts with a table. Not just any table, but one that you helped us design from the ground up. From that single table, PHS has become a leader in offering beautifully designed, quality-manufactured products for the complementary health care field.

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