Social Media: An Emerging Communication Modality

Tuesday, November 18, 2014
Pat Stricker, RN, MEd
Senior Vice President
TCS Healthcare Technologies

Last month’s column explored how the Internet is being used by nurses to find answers to healthcare questions and research new and innovative services, treatments, medications, etc. It referenced the results of the Mobile Device Internet and Social Medical Use and Habits survey that found that 94% of the respondents said their organization allows nurses to use the internet to provide healthcare information (48% encourage access, 41% allow occasional use, and 15% allow it only as a last resort).

Let’s take a look now at the other part of the survey that analyzed the use of social media sites in healthcare organizations. About one-third of the respondents said their organization allowed access to YouTube (37%) and LinkedIn (32%), while fewer organizations allowed Facebook (26%), Pinterest (14%) and Twitter (12%). More than half of the respondents indicated their organization blocked access to these sites. Nursing managers and educators were nearly twice as likely to use social media at work than staff nurses (28% vs. 15%).

The questions regarding the use of social media were focused on using these sites to "follow healthcare issues and topics" and to "find clinical health information or procedure/intervention information, e.g. how to perform a task." Forty-one percent of respondents said they never use social media sites at work to follow healthcare issues and topics. However they were more than twice as likely to use social media sites for these purposes when not at work.

There were no questions related to the use of social media to interact directly with patients, however 73% of the respondents said their organizations had strict policies prohibiting social interaction with patients on social media and social sites.

Currently social media is primarily being used by healthcare professionals to access up-to-date health information, and by consumers to research topics and chat with others about healthcare experiences. It is not being used routinely to communicate with patients, but that is likely to change in the next few years. The 2012 Health IT Survey, conducted by CMSA, TCS Healthcare Technologies, the American Board of Quality Assurance and Utilization Review Physicians, and Schooner Healthcare Services, was done in 2008, 2010, and 2012. Trend Report #2 on Communications and Social Media analyzed the results of the communications and social media segment of the survey.

In the 2010 survey, the respondents were asked about their use of social media to communicate with their patients. Only 4% of case managers indicated they were using social media, however 8% said they expected to be using it by 2012. In reality, the CM usage of social media was 9% in 2012, even higher than predicted. The respondents also predicted the use of social media in CM in 2014 will jump to 16%.

The Mayo Clinical has always been associated with premier level, innovative, trend-setting healthcare. The 2013 Harris Poll EquiTrend survey named the Mayo Clinic website as the top health information website, ahead of WebMD. In addition to their health information website, they also utilize YouTube, Twitter Chats, Facebook, Blogging, and Podcasts.

The "5 Reasons Why Mayo Clinic Dominates Social Media in Healthcare" points out the Clinic’s social media philosophy: to help patients advocate for their own health by providing social media tools that include the best information, connect with their providers and with each other, and inspire healthy choices. The Clinic feels social media is becoming part of consumers’ day-to-day lives and will soon be considered part of routine healthcare operations, so they are leading the way in implementing social media strategies. The following are examples: The Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media to get patients to become better advocates for their own care; An industry-wide Social Media Health Network service that provides tools, resources and guidance to organizations and individuals wanting to apply social media in healthcare; An annual social media summit; and a two-day social media residency program to further promote social media use by providers.

It is not hard to find other interesting articles that provide statistics on the use of social media.

"24 Outstanding Statistics & Figures on How Social Media Has Impacted the Health Care Industry"

  • The most accessed online resources for health information are: WebMD (56%), Wikipedia (31%). Healthmagazine websites (29%), Facebook (17%), YouTube (15%), Blogs (13%), Patient Communities ((12%), and Twitter (6%).
  • Patients are willing to share information about their health on social media sites with other patients (30%) and their physicians (47%).
  • 31% of healthcare professionals use social media for networking and their own development.
  • YouTube traffic to hospital sites has increased 119% year-over-year. These sites highlight the hospital’s value and share videos on preparation for surgery, patient stories, interviews, etc.
  • 55% of health-related conversations on Facebook are about health-related causes or comments about health experiences or updates.

 "13 Stats Every Healthcare Marketer Should Know in 2013 (and Why)"

  • 90% of younger adults (18-24 years old) said they trust medical information shared by others in social media networks. This is much higher than the 30% of adults in the previous article, but it does highlight the different strategies that must be used to reach different age groups.
  • 41% said social media would be influential in their choice of a healthcare provider.
  • Only 26% of all hospitals in the US participate in social media. It is hard to believe that this percentage is so low, considering the extreme interest and use of social media today. The biggest reason has been concerns about HIPAA, but there are ways to assure that all parties involved can be compliant with HIPAA standards.

Our society is becoming more mobile, dependent on the Internet, and accustomed to quick, immediate communication and responses. This paradigm shift occurring in today’s healthcare will force the healthcare community to react and change the way it educates and communicates with patients. Social media will be a key modality to help meet these needs. It is penetrating our society very deeply and very quickly. It is becoming a place where people share interests and receive support from others. This trust in social media, and the fact that is it becoming a part of everyday life, is positioning social media to become a foundation for healthcare in the future. However, we must make sure that, as we begin to use these new modalities, we insist on maintaining strict privacy and confidentiality standards. The use of social media can be very useful if it is used correctly, but it can also create problems if it is not implemented correctly.

To contact Pat Stricker, email her at pstricker@tcshealthcare.comor call her at (530) 886-1700, ext. 215.