Social Media and Healthcare
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Social Media and Healthcare
Articles and Discussions on the intersection of Social Media and Healthcare.
Relevant to Healthcare Practitioners, Pharma', Insurance, Clinicians, Labs, Health IT Vendors, Health Marketeers, Health Policy Makers, Hospital Administrators.
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How to Avoid HIPAA Violations in Social Media

How to Avoid HIPAA Violations in Social Media | Social Media and Healthcare |

HIPAA – those are five letters that keep healthcare compliance and risk officers awake at night.

As we’ve explored before, a business of any size is going to be challenged to stay on top of its social footprint. When we’ve run social presence audits for hospital networks, we usually find a multitude of social media “points of presence” including those for the corporate brand, individual hospitals, specialty centers, departments, programs, campaigns, doctors, nurses and even the gift shop!

Now add to that the “place” pages where people can check-in and leave comments and it’s no wonder a compliance officer can feel like Captain James T. Kirk battling tribbles on the Enterprise. The social footprint of any hospital system is a large and ever-growing universe with each account a potential doorway to a HIPAA violation.

Businesses are Already Behind

By 2011 the utilization of social media by physicians was already quite high according to the QuantiaMD study:

Nearly 90% of physicians use at least one site for personal use, and over 65% for professional purposes. Overall, clinicians express significant interest in the potential applications of social media to their professions – whether via online physician communities, online patient communities or sites that could facilitate physician-patient interactions.

Even though HIPAA violations can result in fines up to $250,000 and a possible prison sentence, it hasn’t kept them at bay. The law firm, Green and Associates, which has a specialization in healthcare, has highlighted a few:

  • A nurse who posted a patient’s picture and chart on his Facebook page because he thought it was “funny” and since it was “only Facebook,” there was no real harm in it.
  • A doctor who treated a patient over Twitter.
  • Emergency room personnel who posted pictures on the Internet of a man being treated for fatal knife wounds.
  • A doctor who asked a patient on a date after seeing her profile on a dating website.
  • A Rhode Island doctor was fired from the hospital and reprimanded by the Medical Board after she posted on her Facebook page about a long day at work. She never referred to the patient’s name but gave out enough details about the injuries to allow others to guess who it was.

Employers are Liable

As attorneys Nancy L. Perkins and Adriane R. Theis, of the Washington, D.C., law firm Arnold & Porter LLP write the risk can extend to the employer:

Because an employer is liable for the conduct of its employees when the employees are acting within the scope of their employment, the employer could be held liable for an employee’s disclosure of another person’s health information on a social networking site.

So what is a healthcare business to do in such a leaky and noisy world where anyone can create a presence and post problematic content?

A Prescription for Prevention

The good news is that the problem is manageable. Here are five (5) steps which will go a long ways to reducing your risk:

Step 1: Create a social media policy

Your first line of defense is having a reasonable and practicable social media policy. There are plenty of law firms and consultancy firms who can help craft a policy. I will offer that a “no social media” policy is neither realistic nor likely to be effective in the long run. The horses are already out of the barn and the best solution is to figure out how to manage them on the range, not get them back in the barn and then keep them there.

Step 2: Distribute and have employees acknowledge receipt of your policy

Having a policy is only good if your employees, consultants, agents, etc. know about it, have read it and have incorporated it into their professional and personal behavior. We recommend utilizing a system which will notify your employees of the new policy and have them acknowledge that they have not only received but read the policy. Remember this: a policy sitting on a shelf that nobody reads isn’t much of a policy.

Note that I said “and personal behavior.” If it hasn’t become clear by now, social media is blurring the lines between personal and professional life like never before. As evidenced from the items listed above, accounts and actions that one may consider personal can easily lead to HIPAA violations. When an employee has an account and says on his or her profile “I work for XYZ” or uses that account to log-in to a service for work (e.g. think Google Accounts, Google+, YouTube, etc.), then you can see how blurry the boundaries can be.

Step 3: Train your employees

Whether you like it or not, we are living in a social world. When a social network has more members than all but two of the world’s countries, we’ve already passed a tipping point. Your employees are on social media and in many cases they are either directly or indirectly associated with your business. Managing social media is more than deploying some tools and assigning a team of interns to keep your content fresh. It means adapting your business to the cultural shift that social media requires and training is a fundamental part of that transformation.

Read Only the Paranoid Survive – Social Business Inflection Point and consider engaging companies likeW20 Group and WCG, both which specialize in healthcare, to help counsel you through this transition.

Step 4: Audit your footprint

Next, it’s vital your business knows where its vulnerabilities are. As I said above, every point of social media presence is a potential doorway to a HIPAA violation. Before you can lock or alarm those doorways, you have to know where they are. You can try to keep track of it with paper forms, email and spreadsheets but we have yet to find such a system that wasn’t incomplete and prone to errors. To properly protect your enterprise, you need an automated system that can help you discover, manage, and monitor your footprint and continue to patrol for new “intrusions.”

Step 5: Listen and Respond

Finally, consider augmenting your presence monitoring with a content-listening platform. An audit can identify the accounts you need to watch but a good listening system can help you focus your attention on those “points of presence” which need your attention before they turn into real problems. There are both general-purpose and specialized systems which your enterprise can deploy but a good system will enable you to look for  language specific to your industry.  I’ve mentioned Salesforce’s Radian6 before and another listening system worth considering is from Sysomos.

In the classic “belts and suspenders” protection analogy, the belts are your policy and accompanying training and the listening systems are your suspenders. Its your social media auditing and inventory system that helps you tie it all together.

Lisa deLeon's curator insight, December 5, 2013 10:29 PM

Listening and Responding are often two of the most underrepresented ideas in social media.  Social media is a conversation...

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Social Media and Patient Advocacy via @nrip

An advocate is a “supporter, believer, sponsor, promoter, campaigner, backer, or spokesperson.Social media is not an activity it's a strategy. Using this strategy with Patient advocacy is what this talk by Nrip Nihalani is about
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Social Media’s Impact on Physicians and Specialties

Social Media’s Impact on Physicians and Specialties | Social Media and Healthcare |

Almost every industry is feeling the impact of social media in areas of business, technology, education, and the medical practice. As social media continues to grow at unparalleled rates, changes are being made to accommodate the abundance of information and sometimes lack thereof.

The use of social media is transforming the way physicians, medical students, and medical programs are being perceived by everyday consumers. A recent trend called FOAM, or Free Open Access Meducation, allows individuals to explore databases of medical resources thus increasing education and awareness. FOAM can consist of multiple social media platforms including podcasts, tweets, posts, blogs, videos, and much more.

If implemented correctly, social media platforms can lead to creative ways to educate and disseminate information to the general public, especially within specific fields of medicine. Recently, two doctors, Dr. Kenar Jhaveri and Dr. Hitesh Shah, physicians at the North Shore—LIJ Health System, decided they wanted to use social media as a means of cultivating interest and the revival of nephrology. In recent years, interest in nephrology has declined in medical programs at universities and in students.

Drs. Jhaveri and Shah created an outline that was presented on November 9, 2013, which is the “largest educational social media campaign to date performed in organized medicine.” This campaign was called “NephMadness.”  The main platforms of the campaign consisted of blog posts and Twitter. Jhaveri and Shah showcased in their findings to other physicians that “utilizing such interactive online social media campaigns certainly has the potential to raise awareness, and may lead to increases in revival of interest in additional medical subspecialties.”

As a locum tenens physician, it is always important to stay up-to-date with current trends in the medical field and in your specialty. What impact does social media have on your information gathering?

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In the Know: LinkedIn & SlideShare for Public Health Webcast Presen...

This is the second of six interactive webcasts in the series, In the Know: Social Media for Public Health. Each webcast focuses on a different social media chan
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Medical Practices Should Tackle Social Media

Medical Practices Should Tackle Social Media | Social Media and Healthcare |

Many health care marketing professionals avoid the idea of joining social networks. Some believe it’s a waste of time or that social media isn’t an appropriate channel to communicate brand messaging. However, for those managing health care marketing for a medical practice, it’s important to realize that there is a lot to gain from joining the social media conversation.

Over one billion people are on Facebook. Many are also on Twitter, Pinterest and Google+. Your practice doesn’t have to join all of the social networks out there, but be sure you are active on the sites you choose to join. The first step in selecting the right social media channel is to research your patient base to see which networks they utilize.

Social Media Lets Interested Followers Find You

The most useful thing about social media is that your followers know what to expect from you. By “liking” or “following” a medical practice, your audience expects to read posts related to your industry. Share information about your practice and your employees. Your followers will quickly understand how your employees interact with patients, and this information helps them decide whether your practice is a good fit for their treatment.

Social Media Helps Patients and Potential Patients Build a Community

The people that follow your practice online share a common bond. Make your posts engaging, informative and accessible to your audience, and encourage them to discuss topics with each other on your page.

Social Media Widens Your Exposure

Your social media followers already have an interest in your industry, whether it’s a clinic or a private medical practice. Your posts have the potential to be viewed by all your followers and their networks, meaning that your news and information is relevant to their lives. All of your friends and followers have their own followers. If your practice has 100 “likes” on Facebook, and each of those 100 people have 100 friends each, think of how quickly your information can spread. When followers “like” or comment on a post that post pops up on those followers’ newsfeeds. Then friends of your followers have direct access to view, comment, and “like” your content as well.

What social media successes and challenges have you faced?

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Living With Diabetes: How I Use Social Media to Connect With Other Patients

Living With Diabetes: How I Use Social Media to Connect With Other Patients | Social Media and Healthcare |

Emotions. It’s not something that comes to mind when you think of someone living with diabetes. But believe it or not, there are many profound feelings and emotions involved with diabetes management.

So often, diabetes is about a number. The number that corresponds to a fingerstick. The number you get every three months at the endocrinologist’s office. The number of times you’ve checked your blood sugar. The number of times you gave yourself a bolus of insulin. The number of carbohydrates in that snack you just had.

It’s exhausting. Trying to function as your own pancreas is flat out difficult. And because of both the stigma surrounding this disease and the nature ofHIPPA laws, it can be downright lonely sometimes. Even when you’ve got the most supportive family and friends and a terrific team of doctors, it feels like a battle that can only be fought and understood by you.

While others can see how sweaty and shaky low blood sugar makes you, they can’t feel the haze that comes along with it. While others can observe your reaction to a blood sugar check, they don’t feel the guiltfrom forgetting to bolus, or not bolusing enough, or bolusing too much. There is opportunity for much doubt and fear, and it can be easy to fall prey to.

I have a super weapon for dealing with some of the negative emotions I feel about diabetes. It’s called the Diabetic Online Community (DOC).

I discovered the DOC through Twitter, and quite accidentally. Now, I interact with other People with Diabetes all over the world across many social media platforms including, but not limited to, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Vine. I’ve connected with people diagnosed in early adulthood, like myself. I’ve talked to people who use an insulin pump and Continuous Glucose Monitor just like me. I’ve talked to people who are disappointed sometimes in all those numbers, just like me.

I’ve met many not like me as well. People who manage their diabetes with injections. People living withType 2 diabetes. People who are parents, caring for their children who live with diabetes. I’ve met people who challenged my thoughts, feelings and knowledge of this disease. People who cheered with me when my hard work paid off and others who reassured me when I was having a bad day.

I urge you to read some of the blogs written by some of the most popular DOC members. I’ve linked to some in this post already (Kerry, Lorraine and Alexis) but there are so many more diabetes bloggers out there. Some of my other favorites are George, Scott, Kim, Ginger, another Scott and this collection of Diabetes Bloggers at Diabetes Mine.

I’ve gained much since I found the DOC: A wealth of a knowledge I can turn to when I encounter a new situation. A camaraderie that I can depend on to rally with me. A kinship with people who just “get it.” I’ve even found a few real life friendships with people who live in the area. I don’t know where my diabetes management would be without the DOC. But I hope I never have to find out

Tambre Leighn's curator insight, December 1, 2013 7:16 PM

Chronic illnesses such as diabetes and cardiac care have done and continue to do a great job in approaching rehabilitation.  Here's another example of how developing a community of support can make a difference in quality of life.  The more we can take models that work in other chronic illnesses and apply them in survivorship the faster we can get survivorship programs rolled out and in a way that works for survivors...not just what others THINK will work.

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An Interview with Dr Mike Sevilla, Physician & Social Media Activist

Primary Care Progress webinar with Dr. Mike Sevilla on how clinicians can use social media.
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Social Media: A Surgeon’s Digital Footprint

Social Media: A Surgeon’s Digital Footprint | Social Media and Healthcare |

While most of us do not have a studio contract, we all are in the media, whether we realize it or not. This new era of social media puts our faces, our practices and even our families on the screens of home computers and handheld devices. We all have a digital footprint, and we must learn how to manage it for the benefit of ourselves and our patients.

More than 80 percent of adults in the United States use the Internet, and 59 percent report an online search for health information in the past year, including looking up their physicians. (1) Information on education, training, board certification, publications, disciplinary actions and malpractice claims usually are available online, while personal information, such as address, mortgage, marriage records, court filings, charitable and political donations, and social networking profiles, may also be obtained. Social-networking sites often include family information, travel habits and hobbies, and a recent survey of surgeons at Vanderbilt University showed that 50 percent of those with Facebook profiles were accessible to the public. (2) This type of information clearly has professional ramifications for the reputation of one’s practice.

While presence of personal information in the social media may be disconcerting, a lack of Internet presence should perhaps be of equal concern. There is a public expectation of ‘‘digital connectedness,’’ and with factual and positive data easily accessible, patients may be less likely to search further and find negative or private information. (3) A positive Internet image can be created through the use of a clinical practice website that highlights professional background information, such as credentials, training, practice philosophy and patient testimonials.

Physician-rating websites are increasingly common and comprise a sizeable share of a physician’s online presence, providing patient-initiated reviews of a physician and his or her practice. They may not reflect the surgeon’s clinical knowledge, judgment or quality of care, but often reflects the patients’ experience with the office staff, facility, wait times and ease of finding the office. These sites are presently ungoverned, and it behooves the physician to monitor them periodically. Physicians can, and should, contact the sites for retraction of incorrect information or defamatory statements; however, retraction occurs at the discretion of the site administrators and may not include a change in the rating. (4) Usually, little opportunity exists for direct rebuttal to complaints, due to privacy issues.

Other issues include the use of social media to communicate with patients. Emailing and texting patients may be an efficient way to interact, improve continuity of care, and help maintain relationships, but these forms of contact raise questions of liability and compensation. Similarly, existing case law suggests potential liability for physicians who engage with patients on openly accessible social-network health-care forums. (5) Intraoperative ‘tweeting can keep a patients’ family updated in real time, but is potentially distracting to the surgical team and may violate patient privacy. Other areas of patient privacy concerns include social networking sites. Of the 50-percent publicly accessible Facebook pages found in a survey of surgeons at Vanderbilt, 31 percent had comments related to work, and 14 percent referenced specific patient encounters. (2)

While the Internet unquestionably offers significant benefits, including access to other surgeons over restricted sites, a wide patient audience and an inexpensive mode of advertisement, protection of the traditional, office-based patient-surgeon relationship, protection of both physician and patient privacy, and protection from liability all raise significant questions regarding current social media utilization. Medical societies must continue to press for regulations of physician-rating websites, and the individual surgeons must safeguard themselves by creating a positive online presence, utilizing privacy settings for social networking sites, carefully considering online patient communication, and monitoring one’s digital identity.

Stuart McKinnon's curator insight, January 11, 2018 10:41 AM
Personal insight on Social Media.
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HIPAA-secure social network launched solely for Autism community

HIPAA-secure social network launched solely for Autism community | Social Media and Healthcare |

Autism Spectrum Disorder is the fastest growing developmental disability in the United States, affecting 1 in 88 children, according to the CDC. As more families struggle to find answers and make sense of a diagnosis, National Autism Network announces the launch of an innovative, HIPAA-secure social network designed specifically and solely for the Autism community. This fully integrated social network offers features not currently found on any social network and was created to fill a void in the community. 

"For twenty years, I've watched the plight of parents who spent hours talking to different providers for their children – from behavior analysts speech therapists to occupational therapists to dieticians," said Denise DeCandia, a behavioral therapist whose focus is serving the autism community. "Naturally parents want their child's providers to be well-informed and all on the same page, but time and again providers like myself have had to decline Facebook invitations and other requests to connect from parents because of ethical and privacy concerns." 

With the rise of social media, DeCandia knew there must be a better way to connect the autism community. "That's when the lightbulb went on," she continued. "What if we could use the power of social media to connect parents, providers, and individuals on the spectrum in a safe, HIPPA-secure environment? The end result would be time savings for parents and better care for the child."

The social network is the last piece in the puzzle for National Autism Network's comprehensive online resource, which is the largest online resource for the autism community and offers a nationwide provider directory, discussion forums, autism news, and many additional resources. 

The unique features of the social network allows parents to not only connect with other parents, family members or individuals on the spectrum, but also to create a HIPAA secure private network for their child where they can invite their child's therapy providers and caregivers to access real time updates along with shared files and therapy notes. In order for this community to truly thrive, National Autism Network also saw a need to facilitate interactions with industry professionals. Providers have the ability to create a business profile page where they can build a following of members, provide updates, network with other professionals, provide insight on key topics and have the ability to be listed as a preferred provider by parents.

"When our son was diagnosed with autism, my wife and I wanted to learn everything we could but we felt overwhelmed by the information we found online. National Autism Network saved us time and provided peace of mind in narrowing down the treatment options available, finding providers, and also providing encouragement knowing we're not alone in this journey," said Shane Thomas, whose three year old son was recently diagnosed with ASD. 

Every individual who registers with the National Autism Network will have the capability to create a social network profile, participate in discussion forums, share success stories, view local events in their community, research local providers, and much more – all in one central location.

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Sickness incoming: Twitter can predict where FLU outbreaks will occur

Sickness incoming: Twitter can predict where FLU outbreaks will occur | Social Media and Healthcare |
  • Geography experts believe Twitter could help medical professionals learn where and when severe flu outbreaks are occurring in real time
  • San Diego State University researchers recorded 161,821 tweets containing the word ‘flu’ and 6,174 containing ‘influenza’ for their study
  • They discovered that nine out of 11 cities studied showed a ‘significant’ correlation between tweets about flu and the rates of flu-like illnesses

Twitter might be best known as the place to go for day-to-day updates about people’s lives and celebrity selfies, but it could also be used as a health tool, researchers claim.

Geography experts have discovered that posts on the social network predicted flu outbreaks in different parts of the U.S.

They believe Twitter could help medical professionals learn where and when severe flu outbreaks are occurring in real time so they can prepare for busy periods, which typically occur during the winter months.

Whenever people tweeted the keywords 'flu' or 'influenza,' the computer programme recorded characteristics about the tweets, including the username and location of the people who sent them

The researchers, led by San Diego State University geography professor Ming-Hsiang Tsou, examined tweets that originated from a 17 mile radius of 11 different U.S. cities between June and December 2012.

Whenever people tweeted the keywords ‘flu’ or ‘influenza,’ a computer programme recorded characteristics about the tweets, including the username and location of the people who sent them as well as whether they were original tweets or retweets and whether they linked to a website.


From June 2012 to the beginning of December, the algorithm recorded 161,821 tweets containing the word ‘flu’ and 6,174 containing ‘influenza’.

The researchers compared the location data of those tweets to data on the flu virus rates recorded in the relevant cities and counties.

They discovered that of the 11 cities where tweets were examined, there was a ‘significant’ correlation between tweets about flu and the rates of flu-like illnesses in nine of the cities.

Geography experts believe Twitter could help medical professionals learn where and when severe flu outbreaks are occurring in real time so they can prepare for busy periods, which typically occur during the winter months

Twitter also seemed to be able to predict outbreaks in five of the cities: San Diego, Denver, Jacksonville, Fort Worth and Seattle, as the tweets recorded instances of illness before they were officially documented and reported by cities and counties.

‘Traditional procedures take at least two weeks to detect an outbreak. With our method, we're detecting daily,’ he said.

The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention defines flu season as the period from October through May, usually peaking around February, but the unpredictability of when and where outbreaks may occur makes it difficult for hospitals and regional health centres to prepare.

Professor Tsou believes his technique could allow officials to more quickly and efficiently direct resources to outbreak zones and better contain the spread of the disease. A busy hospital waiting room is pictured

There is about a two week lag in the time it takes for hospitals to notice a sharp rise in flu patients and the U.S. centre issuing a warning.

The researchers found original tweets and tweets without website links proved more predictive than retweets or those that did include links, possibly because original tweets are more likely to reflect individuals posting about their own symptoms.

Professor Tsou believes his technique, which is detailed in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, could allow officials to more quickly and efficiently direct resources to outbreak zones and better contain the spread of the disease.

‘There is the potential to use social media to really improve the way we monitor the flu and other public health concerns,’ he said.

Professor Tsou is not on his own in thinking social media could be used as a powerful predictive medical tool.

In 2011, scientists from Pennsylvania State University used Twitter to track attitudes towards the flu vaccination and labelled them as being positive, neutral or negative.

Another study found 46 per cent of office workers and 56 per cent of senior business people blame employees who 'soldier on' for spreading workplace germs

U.S. mobile conferencing company Citrix has also built a microsite to track tweets about flu to examine how it affects workplaces.

It said ‘lurgy’ is the highest flu-related hashtag on Twitter, according to a UK study it commissioned by YouGov and that ‘office martyrs’ are the top cause of widespread illness in offices.

The survey found 46 per cent of office workers and 56 per cent of senior business people blame employees who ‘soldier on’ for spreading workplace germs.

Around a quarter of UK office works said their colleagues do not take time off when they are ill as they worry about their workload, while just over half of workers agree the office would be more productive if ill colleagues stayed at home

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Should Hospitals be on Facebook?

Should Hospitals be on Facebook? | Social Media and Healthcare |

Across industries, sophisticated organizations are now committing both time and money to their social media marketingcampaigns. But the healthcare industry (including hospitals, B2B medical manufacturers, and health clubs) has hesitated to embrace social media.

A survey of 1,060 U.S. adults by the PwC Health Research Institute found that one-third of respondents considered social media platforms appropriate for the discussion of healthcare. The Journal of Internet Medical Research found that 60% of adults surveyed used the Internet to access medical information. This is a major opportunity – it’s time to get ahead of the curve.

Here's how healthcare institutions can engage on social in a relevant, useful, industry-appropriate way.

Use Images

In a study by Infinigraph, we measured the effectiveness of different posts made by healthcare companies, including hospitals, clinics, and health care foundations. We found that healthcare audiences engaged most with posts containing images.

Keep it Human, Keep it Useful

Some of the most engaged-with Facebook posts contain images, and all link to valuable content. These short posts link to larger articles which tell human interest stories, tapping into audience emotions, or provide useful health information.

A Few Best Practices for Healthcare Marketers

  • Make your data available. Allow your ratings and reviews, as well as error rates within your database (if applicable) to be made public.
  • Educate your employees on social media policies. Make the risk of violating the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) clear, and prohibit posting inappropriate information about doctors or patients.
  • Implement privacy settings. Be sure to safeguard personal information and content.
  • Avoid using social media channels to communicate with patients on sensitive issues. Advise them on a secure, personalized server.
  • Enlist at least one author, editor, or reviewer on every piece of content that you publish. Include references or links to the source of your content, and date it whenever possible.
  • Include an “About Us” or “History” section on your website. Present information about qualified staff, services, and facility as well as your purpose, goal, or mission.
  • Ask for audience feedback through surveys and questionnaires. Make your contact information easy to find, and encourage your audience to get in touch via email, Facebook, and Twitter. When they do reach out, respond promptly and thoughtfully.

Curated from

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Online Profile Management for Oncologists

An understanding of Online Profile Management for Oncologists, with an Indian perspective. Covers Digitally Aware Patients and Social Networks, The Need for On
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Social Media Measurement and Evaluation for Public health

This is the sixth part of interactive webcasts in this round of the series, In the Know: Social Media for Public Health. Each webcast focuses on a different soc
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Are You Using Social Media to Build Your Medical Practice?

Are You Using Social Media to Build Your Medical Practice? | Social Media and Healthcare |

How many times have you dragged yourself to a cocktail party after a 15-hour day examining patients? You’re ready to trade your lab coat for a fuzzy flannel robe, but instead, you’re suiting up for an evening of small talk and cheese balls.

As a physician and a businessman, you know the value of networking. To grow your practice, forge relationships with other doctors and build your reputation, you’ve got to do more than treat illnesses and set broken bones.

Developing efficient ways to network and communicate with peers and patients will become even more important in the months and years ahead thanks to the Affordable Health-care Act. The law’s emphasis on preventive care and the anticipated crush of newly insured patients will require a lot of proactive, efficient outreach if you want to be as effective as possible.

Of course, I know you don’t rely solely on professional gatherings and social get-togethers to connect with others. You’re also online, with a personal Facebook page and a nice website for your practice. You just don’t have the time or manpower to do more.

It’s time to rethink that. I promise you, an hour of virtual networking – at home in your bathrobe and slippers! – is more valuable than 12 spent watching cocktail wieners drown in barbecue sauce.

While 87 percent of physicians use social media in their personal lives – everything from Facebook, to Twitter, to blogs and YouTube – only 26 percent use two or more sites for connecting professionally, according to a 2011 QuantiaMD survey of more than 4,000 doctors. The most popular sites for docsare physician communities, which 28 percent of you use to discuss medical issues, learn about new therapies, and share information through links to articles.

That means a lot of you are missing out on a wealth of opportunities. Consider: Unlike the rest of us, you’re practically guaranteed an audience because people tend to trust what physicians post (61% percent of patients surveyed by PwC Health Research Institute). That audience can grow exponentially online, and that translates to tremendous credibility in the public eye. For better or for worse, in today’s world we’re judged by the size of our online following.

What can that mean for your practice? If you’re a specialist, patients all over the country and beyond can get to know you and come to trust in your expertise. Will they travel to confer with the physician they know? Oh, yes!

Even if you’re only interested in building your practice locally, having an online reputation as a knowledgeable, helpful physician will lead to more patients and more referrals. People often choose doctors through word-of-mouth recommendations, and thousands of Twitter followers is some impressive word-of-mouth!

As for helping you deal with the changes expected as a result of the Affordable Health-care Act? More patients and a focus on preventive health care will require you to turn your one-on-one office visit reminders, precautions and advice into mass messages. Some physicians already are experimenting with targeting email blasts to groups of patients with the same concerns or chronic illnesses, e.g. “Have you scheduled your mammogram?” or “Have you heard about this new technique for averting an asthma attack?”

Social media allows you to alert large numbers of patients – and others who are interested – to new therapies, preventive lifestyle changes, checkup reminders and other valuable health information.

But before I move on to suggestions for which sites will be most helpful to you and tips for using them, a word of caution. The American Medical Association and the Federation of State Medical Boards have both issued guidelines to help you avoid censure, awkward situations and conflicts of interest caused by posting the wrong content online.

The AMA policy warns physicians not to post any identifiable patient information to avoid federal privacy violations. The FSMB policy further refines that: No photos of patients, no mentioning room numbers, no referring to patients by code names.

Both also remind clinicians to separate personal and professional sites. Don’t use your personal Facebook page, where you interact with friends and family, to connect with patients and former patients. When creating log-ins for personal sites, use your personal email address. If you use your professional email, people may assume you’re representing yourself online in that capacity.

Doctors also have inadvertently overstepped ethical boundaries of their patient-physician relationships by becoming friends and followers of their patients’ sites, and allowing them access to their personal sites. The FSMB policy includes descriptions of scenarios that have resulted from a patient seeing photos of her doctor partying it up late at night – and wondering if he was sober during their early-morning appointments – to a psychiatrist unsure what to do about a former patient’s worrisome posts.

A graceful way to handle requests from patients and former patients who ask to connect with you through your personal accounts is to refer them to your professional sites.

Most important, remember that everything you post online is now published for the world to see: The disparaging comment about a colleague; the innocent, off-color joke; the irritation over a patient’s behavior.

All that said, developing an online presence really is not so scary. At my company, EMSI, we simply remind the physicians and other health-care professionals who are clients not to do or say anything online that they wouldn’t at that networking cocktail party.

Now, on to the fun stuff. There are three ways you can handle your social media: Do it yourself; have someone in your office take care of it with your oversight; or have a PR company take care of it. With the latter, there are many different models. Our company employs social media experts who “become” the client, learning their voice, their message, their likes and dislikes. While they take care of posting content, responding to comments and questions, and building the audience, they do so while in constant communication and coordination with our client.

I’d also advise you to look for firms that have experience working with health-care professionals. We felt comfortable taking on doctors as clients when we launched our social media division five years ago, because we’d been working with doctors since we went into business 22 years ago.

If you plan the DIY approach, you’ll want to choose at least two networking sites – more is better! – for your professional accounts. We like the four most popular – Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn – although you have many, many other options. There are also physician communities, such as Doximity ( with 567,000 members, which are accessible only by doctors. These offer you a measure of freedom to tackle concerns and problems, and they’re an excellent educational resource.

Here’s a brief description of the four big networking sites:

Facebook – Facebook is the largest social network in the world. Your content is provided through fairly brief “status updates,” such as: “It’s flu season, have you been vaccinated? It’s a simple way to prevent a week of misery and time away from work. Have concerns? Here’s a link to a great article laying out the truths and myths about flu vaccinations.” You can also share photos, videos and online resources.

Twitter – With Twitter, you communicate in posts of no more than 140 characters – a sentence or two. You can share links, get involved in conversations, and access different topic categories, by using hashtags (i.e. #asthma) to see, for instance, the concerns of people living with asthma. Users “follow” each other and thus gain access to their messages. You can also respond directly to individual users, although these will be displayed publicly.

Google+ – Google+ is a combination of Facebook and Twitter, a social network that allows you to separate the people you share content with by placing them in circles, such as friends, colleagues, acquaintances. You can use it for one-on-one conversations

LinkedIn – Used primarily for building a professional network, LinkedIn allows you to share your CV, have colleagues post recommendations, see the professionals your contacts are associated with and hold discussions. It’s a great way to get introduced to someone you’d like to connect with but don’t know. LinkedIn has more than 70 million registered users.

Assuming you’re going to handle your social media yourself, here are some tips from our experts at EMSI.

  • Be sure to fill out your profile with accurate, complete information about you, your credentials and your practice. Don’t use the shadowy profile picture most platforms provide as a default. Instead upload a professional photo of you (we prefer a face because people like to follow people) or your business logo.
  • People will follow you only if your content is informative or entertaining so don’t use your site simply to advertise your practice or services. If you want to build an audience, give people content they can use.
  • Respond to comments and questions in a timely fashion. It can be as simple as a “thank you.” If you don’t respond, your followers will quickly realize no one’s really “there” and they’ll quit coming back. (If they ask for a diagnosis, talk in general terms about their symptoms, i.e. Localized rashes are often caused by non-threatening allergic reactions. Try not to scratch; Benadryl ointment may help. If it spreads, you should see your doctor.)
  • Look for helpful, timely news stories to link to, such as new medical studies. When posting a link to an article, don’t simply post the link. Add a personal comment, such as, “This is an interesting new weight-loss study that should help anyone who hates dieting.” People can find those articles themselves – what they value is your take on them.
  • Know that when you first launch your social media account, your audience will grow slowly. But as your audience grows, your site is exposed to more and more people – each person who friends, likes, or connects with you is also sharing your content with their friends. Be patient. If you want to add followers more quickly, find relevant interest groups and add your comments to their conversations.
  • On Twitter, follow nearly as many people as the number following you. It’s all about sharing. If people see you don’t subscribe to other accounts, they won’t subscribe to yours. Everyone wants followers!
  • Photographs always draw attention – people love visuals! While physicians need to be careful about personal information, your followers willl enjoy the occasional family vacation photo or cute pet picture. Plus, it shows your human side. And that’s what you need to do to attract followers.

So what’s the takeaway? Social media is the present and the future of marketing.  If you don’t already have a presence, now is the time to start building one. It’s how relationships, credibility and practices are taken to new heights.

Patients may eat an apple a day to keep the doctor away.  But a Tweet a day will keep your practice healthy.

Allison Emma Schizkoske's curator insight, December 5, 2013 3:45 PM

This article had great insight and great knowledge on the topic of social media. Knowing this information about Facebook, Twitter, Linked in and Google + Gives people a great look at what each one can do and how you can connect them 


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How Is Social Media Reshaping Pfizer?

How Is Social Media Reshaping Pfizer? | Social Media and Healthcare |

I had a chance to sit down with Bob Libbey the Head of Digital and Social Communications at Pfizer to discuss some of the topics that you will see at the Social Shake-Up Conference. The following is a transcript of our conversation. Enjoy!

SMT:   Tell me how a company like Pfizer organizes all the social efforts going on across the organization.

BOB:   The efforts are largely concentrated at the corporate level right now. We are organized operationally by business units that serve their discreet markets and also do some social, and by supporting functions and platform functions.

SMT:   It’s got to be difficult because you’ve got a lot of regulation facing you.  Can you talk a little bit about the difficulties that you have versus say a technology company that doesn’t have these kinds of regulations?

BOB:   Interestingly enough the issue for pharma is largely a lack of regulation or guidance regarding social media, so we as a company have developed our own policies and procedures around our use of social media to ensure we’re compliant, of course, and running our channels according to best practices.

SMT:   Do you find that what you guys are doing with social media is breaking down any barriers within Pfizer? 

BOB:   Yes. The clearest illustration right now is our social networking hub, which we call My World. That’s something we conceived and that was developed in partnership with our Business Technology colleagues and introduced as part of our PfizerWorld intranet platform back in 2010. That first year this internal networking hub drew 41,000 unique users who generated 800,000 page views. The second year it rose to approximately 60,000 users driving 1.6 million page views. 

SMT:   Wow.  That’s like the size of a small search engine.

BOB:   Yeah, it was terrific. People connect with each other and share challenges and solutions and news and updates on things. On any given day there’s a lot of traffic there. 

SMT:   Is this a global initiative, too?

BOB:   It is, but most of the posts you see are in English. I would add that this is not just inside Pfizer but outside of the company too. We’re seeing social tools extend and, in some cases, redefine relationships. Take the Get Old Program, for example. If you haven’t been to the site, it’ It’s an effort by Pfizer to support a candid conversation around aging and living better. What we’re trying to do is challenge people of all ages to rethink what it means to get old and take a more active role in their health. Aging is, of course, a major issue of our time. The population is getting older and chronic conditions are on the rise. To further help support the conversation on these and related issues, we also developed for the site its own Twitter handle and Facebook page.

SMT:   Can you talk about how you leverage user-generated content? Have you gotten a tremendous response? 

BOB:   Yes, we’ve gotten a really good response and we’re very pleased. Because this version of the Get Old site, is so fundamentally different than the previous version, launched in mid-2012, I can’t give you a fair comparison regarding user-generated content volumes. But we’re seeing about three times the traffic generated by the original site. When you go on the new site, you’ll see there are three sections, “Inspire,” “Declare: and “Explore.” Two of these sections present user-generated content in different forms. One is a little longer form than the other. Both sections or pages display the number of pieces of user content posted.

SMT:    It sounds like you had a great response from external users – have you done anything to engage your internal users?

BOB:   Yes, we’ve used several avenues to engage our colleagues, including our PfizerWorld intranet platform. We also had many colleagues participate in our Claim Your Age Day event, which was presented in Times Square on the day of our program and site re-launch – June 5 – and which included participants being photographed or videotaped holding a board displaying their age and talking about how they want to get old. That same day we had Claim Your Age Day activities for our colleagues at our New York Headquarters building and at other sites around the world.

Regarding PfizerWorld, when we started out work on this in my previous role leading Global Colleague Communications, we found that there were some 400 intranet sites across the company. So, while we were going to build a new site, we were also going to build a template that our business units, country organizations and others could use to help stem the proliferation of unrelated/unconnected sites and make it easier for our audience to find the news and information they needed.

In its third year, PfizerWorld generated 5.3 million article views and 61 million page views, up 279 percent and more than 1,000 percent respectively over the predecessor site. And the project yielded $20 million in maintenance, support, and development savings over the four years. Today, PfizerWorldserves as what we like to think of as a digital town square for our colleagues.

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Social Media Adds Valuable Knowledge to a Physician’s Toolbox

Social Media Adds Valuable Knowledge to a Physician’s Toolbox | Social Media and Healthcare |

It’s no secret that the social media revolution is dramatically impacting the way we communicate.  And, according to a recent study by the Journal of Medical Research, it turns out that many physicians are using social media to exchange medical information (and before you say it, no, we’re not talking about the HIPAA kind of stuff – think research people).

The survey asked physicians to identify the factors that influence their use of social media as a component of their lifelong learning and continuing professional development.  The study found that:

  • 60% said that social media improves the quality of care they deliver;
  • 58% said they think social media to be beneficial and a good way to get current, high-quality information;
  • 46% said that they contribute new content via social media on a weekly basis; and
  • 14.2% said that they contribute new information via a social media platform at least once daily.

So what does this all mean? Well, it’s pretty safe to say that social media will never supersede the more traditional methods of research for providers, but it does add valuable knowledge to a physician’s toolbox.  Food for thought.

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mHealth – A Check-Up On Consumer Use

mHealth – A Check-Up On Consumer Use | Social Media and Healthcare |
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Paging Dr. Google: How to Handle Self Diagnosing Patients

Paging Dr. Google: How to Handle Self Diagnosing Patients | Social Media and Healthcare |

Thanks to the wealth of information and savvy of search engines today, one in three adults in the U.S. use the internet to diagnose themselves or family members when an ailment strikes. The problem is, with similar symptoms a patient may have gout rather than arthritis or may simply be suffering from migraines as opposed to having a stroke. Yet they will march in to a physician’s office, utterly convinced of their online self diagnosis, with pages of internet printouts in hand.

Wonder why you are running across so many patients diagnosing themselves online? The Pew Internet and American Life Project released a 2013 report offering some eye- opening statistics on this phenomenon. In their survey of over 3,000 Americans, this is some of what they found:

•    35% of U.S. adults reported they have used the internet to try and figure out what medical condition they or another may have.
•    Women are more likely than men to self diagnose.
•    77% of respondents reported using a search engine as the first step to finding a diagnosis (as opposed to going directly to a healthcare site, which only 13% of responders reported doing.)
•    41% of online diagnosers say a medical professional confirmed their diagnosis. An additional 2% say a medical professional partially confirmed it. 
•    35% say they did not visit a clinician to get a professional opinion.

With stats like these how are health care providers supposed to handle and respond to this new generation of Dr. Google patients.

First, Remind Them to Consider Their Sources – Of course it’s important to listen to what the patient has to say about their findings, and to look over their resources. But then it’s important to remind them about the credibility of their sources. This excerpt from a Physician’s practice article sheds some humor on this concept: “Four years of pre-med, four years of med school, three years of residency, two years of fellowship, 12 years of practice during which I get a minimum 50 hours of CME a year, weekly and monthly journals, digital and print clinical updates, and I am supposed to be swayed by something Mrs. Jones found on Wikipedia?” 

Without so many details or the sarcasm it’s important to communicate to the patient why you will need to conduct your own tests and observations before concluding an actual diagnosis. Additionally, put together a handout or brochure to direct patients to the most reputable sources you know for online health information and pass it along to your patients. They are going to be looking online anyway; you might as well send them to the right places.

Do Your Best to Have Some Online Availability - Professionals are suggesting that by increasing their presence on the web, via chat, social media or email – physicians offices could intervene early on in the self diagnosis process. You could offer your own thoughts, but most importantly encourage patients to make an appointment before symptoms worsen.  

Try To See The Good in Patient Research - "I really appreciate when patients bring in information that they found online, because it allows me to guide my instruction and plan based on their true concerns," said Dr. Natasha Burgert of KC Kids Doc in a CNN article. "People get scared when they get sick and hurt, and they want to use multiple sources of information to help themselves. The Internet adds to that physician's expertise in order to do that." Burgert suggests that maybe all of this information patients are getting online is helping them to be more transparent and better communicators when it comes to their health conditions.

For as much good information available to “Googlers” there is just as much bad. As I’m sure this trend of looking to search engines for health tips and treatments will only increase it’s important to physicians to develop practices around dealing with their more informed patients. The challenge posed is deciphering whether or not they are properly informed and pointing them to the right places to ensure they are.

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Social Media’s Role in Global Health

Social Media’s Role in Global Health | Social Media and Healthcare |

The answer to many global health problems lies right in each of our mobile phones. You may come across it while you are checking your friends’ facebook status and sharing your latest reading advice on Twitter. The problem is: You probably won’t recognize what treasure you can find there.

Because, as with all precious treasures, it’s well hidden. More than 900 million uses share a part of their world with others on Facebook each month. Another 140 million users give short updates about their lives and views on Twitter. Thereby, millions of posts and tweets are generated each day. Among them: valuable information on patients and their specific needs. “Health is one of the number one topics discussed on social media” says Gavin Tuffey from GlaxoSmithKline. If we could just seperate this specific health data from the less relevant data, we would be able to survey the effects of treatments, learn more patients’ opinions and reveal significant lacks of information.

We still are far away from an extensive use of this data. However, there are a couple of pioneers. Four of them shared their experience on the World Health Summit in Berlin. Their discussion  revealed that social media in healthcare has actually two sides: a good and a bad one.

Heidi Larson, Senior Lecturer from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine,talked about a quite common example. As anti-vaccination groups are as active on social media platforms as neutral minded patients, you can find both opinions on Twitter. That is why polio vaccine initiatives in Nigeria and Pakistan were equally praised and condemned there. So how should other users know which opinion can be trusted?

There is still no simple answer for this problem. Providing reliable health information via digital channels is still a great challenge. However, in other parts of the digital health universum, success might be less far away.

Daudi Were, for example, found a way to use social media for coping with crises. He works for a company called Ushahidi. The Swahilian word for “testimony” or “witness” gives hints about its use: Were and his colleagues map violence and medical need by analyzing data from SMS, e-mail and social media. Ushahidi has already successfully been able to map violence in Gaza and Syra or demolition during the earthquake in Haiti – and thereby made intervention more successful.

However, this technique obviously has its limits. Even though mobile and social media use is quickly growing all over the world, the public still isn’t equally representated by these channels. Portland and Tweetminster released a study in 2012 showing that Twitter users in Africa are even much younger than in other continents. According to their findings, 60 percent of them are between 21 and 29.

But the popularity among the youths also makes social media useful to tackle diseases that are especially common in the younger ages. Thus Joseph Tucker, from the University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, uses digital channels to educate about sexually transmitted diseases as HIV and Hepatitis. His platform is run in the Chinese city Guangzhou, where young men don’t know much about the risk and transmission of these fatal viruses.  Usually nobody here gets tested. Tucker and his colleagues especially try to change that by addressing homosexuals, who are at high risk carrying theses diseases with them.

Admittedly, this all is quite a slow start for the social media revolution in healthcare. To use its means to a greater extent, more users and more expertise is urgently needed. It’s worth it. Because we all know that the biggest treasures are also the hardest to uncover.

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The Digital Journey: What Patients Do and Want

The Digital Journey: What Patients Do and Want | Social Media and Healthcare |
This infographic from Google uncovers the how, when and where of the hospital selection process while highlighing what factors lead to a decision. 94% say it comes down to reputation!
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Healthcare Social Media Marketing Strategy: Why You Should Incorporate Videos

Healthcare Social Media Marketing Strategy: Why You Should Incorporate Videos | Social Media and Healthcare |

ust under two years ago, the head of global partnerships for YouTube—a man named Robert  Kyncl—made headlines after making a speech at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Within the speech, Kyncl dropped several attention-grabbing figures, such as YouTube banking a startling one trillion hits in 2011. But perhaps the boldest and most influential prediction he made was this: in the next decade, 90% of web traffic will be generated by videos.

If you think that percentage seems high, you aren’t alone. Yet, regardless of whether Kyncl’s prediction comes true, the fact remains that video content is consistently growing in popularity and accessibility. As that growth occurs, you need to make sure your healthcare social media marketing strategy can keep up. Simply put: if your hospital or practice isn’t producing video content yet, now’s the time to start.

And just in case you aren’t convinced by Kyncl’s predictions, here are:

Five Reasons Your Healthcare Social Media Marketing Strategy Should Include Videos:
  1. It’s what the people want. There’s a reason a video of a dog walking on his hind legs is more likely to go viral than an article written about the same phenomenon. Society is largely visual and people like to see things.
  2. They’re highly shareable. Though written pieces are also highly shareable, a quick video is more likely to catch the attention of someone with only casual interest. With less time required to determine a reaction, people are more likely to check it out.
  3. They demonstrate creativity. Take advantage of a new media to show some personality and variety in your healthcare marketing.
  4. They demonstrate currency. When you’re marketing in the healthcare industry, you want your prospective patients to think your hospital or practice is cutting edge. Using video content in your marketing strategy helps demonstrate an understanding of what’s current.
  5. You probably already have some. Since starting something new can often be intimidating, try to use potential video content you might already unknowingly have. For instance, if a doctor in your practice has given a presentation recently, it might have been filmed.

So, once you’ve committed your healthcare organization to incorporating video content in your social media marketing strategy, where do you begin? With several platforms to choose from and a variety of strategies to employ, figuring out what works best for your practice or hospital can be tricky. Rather than succumb to the trickiness, keep in mind these beginner tips.

Five Tricks to Make Videos Part of Your Healthcare Social Media Marketing Strategy
  1. Start a “Vlog.” Short for video blog, maintaining a regular vlog series gives your prospective and current patients something to look forward to. Similarly to how you’d generate topics for your written blog, your vlogs should be topical and fairly brief. Think one to five minutes, maximum.
  2. Establish a YouTube channel. Acquiring followers and views on YouTube is a great way to see how your video content is being received. By establishing a frequently updated YouTube channel, you can establish your healthcare organization as a resource.
  3. Experiment with Vine. Think Twitter for videos. Vine vides are very short (six seconds or less), so they’re great when you have something quick, witty, and impactful to share with your followers. For a slightly longer, but equally casual platform, Instagram also recently started offering a video option.
  4. Use variety. Just as with any content creation, you want to keep it fresh and interesting. Vary aspects like subject matter, length, style, and point-of-view to keep your followers interested.
  5. Choose wisely. Not everything needs to be made into a video, so think carefully about whether the medium makes sense for your purpose. You want to create video content intentionally and not just for the sake of it.

To really ensure your venture into producing video content is successful, we also compiled a few potential starting points. Just in case you’re struggling to come up with subject matter, here’s a great list you can refer to:

Beginner Video Content Topics for Healthcare Social Media Marketing
  • Patient stories and interviews
  • Facility tours
  • Presentations or speeches
  • Simple “How To’s”
  • Employee spotlights (particularly doctors and nurses who with patients will likely interact.)
  • “A Day in The Life” (or, in this case, the office).
  • “Behind the Scenes” transparencies (to whatever degree you can provide them).
  • Big Announcements

As with beginning any new content marketing strategy, we recommend you start slow. Check out other healthcare organizations that make strong use of their YouTube channel and see what type of content they’re producing and how successful it has been. Click here to see a brief search we did through YouTube channels that include the word “hospital.”

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Social Media as a Life Saving Link - Mayo Clinic

The wealth of medical info on the Internet has become a something of a double-edged scalpel. 
While Hypochondriacs can quickly get in over their heads.. a quick computer search brings millions the basics on almost any condition. And when that fails, mayo researchers learned, social networking sites may be the place to begin unraveling medical mysteries. 

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Physicians fear online ratings when they don't have to

Physicians fear online ratings when they don't have to | Social Media and Healthcare |

Many physicians continue to be fearful of online rating sites, despite evidence that they don’t have anything to worry about.

Multiple studies, including one from the Journal of General Internal Medicine(saying that 88% of physician reviews were positive), to a more recent one from the Journal of Urology (86% positive), say that the majority of physician ratings are better than most doctors would think.

Reconcile these findings with the recent study that shows that online ratings in general are influenced by the so-called herd effect.

From the journal, Science, researchers found that a person was 32% more likely to give a news story an up vote on an aggregated news site if it already had a positive rating. In other words: “… a positive nudge, [the researchers] said, can set off a bandwagon of approval.”

“‘Hype can work,’ said Sinan K. Aral, a professor of information technology and marketing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, ‘and feed on itself as well.’”

“If people tend to herd together on popular opinions, that could call into question the reliability of ‘wisdom of the crowd’ ratings on Web sites like Yelp or Amazon and perhaps provide marketers with hints on how to bring positive attention to their products.”

Let’s put aside whether online ratings can accurately ascertain the quality of the doctor, or not. The truth is, it doesn’t matter: They’re here to stay. 44% of patients online search the web to research their doctor, and a growing number will be influenced by the ratings that pop up when a doctor is Googled.

Now that we know the power of the herd mentality, the first rating on a physician review site grows more important.

Physicians should ask all their patients to rate them online. The aforementioned studies suggest that most of these ratings will be favorable. And once doctors get their first positive rating, we now know it holds sway over future ones as well.

Leo J. Bogee III's curator insight, November 29, 2013 11:55 PM

That is an amazing statistic that  44% of patients online search the web to research their doctor, and a growing number will be influenced by the ratings that pop up when a doctor is Googled.

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Patient Engagement Through Storytelling

Patient Engagement Through Storytelling | Social Media and Healthcare |

Patient engagement is currently the holy grail of medical practice marketing. Far more than just a trendy buzzword, ‘engagement’ has not only mushroomed into one of the leading topics for spoken and written content, but it also lends itself to multiple meanings. Opportunists use it across a wide range of constituents and agendas, from social media marketing to database systems. So why is patient engagement so important, and how does content marketing help to achieve it?

Why We Need Engagement

Healthcare is expensive, both for patients and for the authorities. Research shows that patients who are actively involved in their healthcare are significantly more likely to practice positive health behaviour, resulting in better health outcomes. Case studies show patient engagement delivers dramatic results, such as:

  • 40% reduction in emergency room consultations
  • 20% to 35% reduction in hospital admissions
  • 86% patient satisfaction
  • 47% increase in the number of patients meeting cholesterol goals

This reduces the cost to all parties, minimises patients’ discomfort and increases both the length and the quality of their lives.

Disengagement Dilemma

Research by Deloitte shows that 1 in 2 patients are disengaged and prefer to follow a passive healthcare approach. In spite of having access to technology such as patient portals, less than 10% of patients actually use these online tools. They rely heavily on doctors to make all their medical decisions while they take no initiative to manage their own health.

Why Content Marketing Helps

It all comes down to conversation. In the healthcare service industry, we’re talking to real people about real issues that affect their lives. Content educates, informs, and promotes conversation; all these processes lead to patient engagement. If you want your patients to join the conversation, you have to give them a reason to do so, and that’s where content marketing comes in. Not just any content, either; it has to be content your patients can really relate to.

Story Telling Makes the Point

Mankind has always loved story telling. Since the beginning of time, we’ve gathered around fires while elders told stories that carried important messages for humanity. And it’s no different today. You just have to look around at the millions of books, films and television series available - most of which have an identifiable moral message of some sort. Stories are shared, discussed and reproduced in other formats. Stories evoke emotion, they encourage the reader to go along for the journey. In other words, they engage.

Getting it Right

It’s one thing to say it and another to get it right, though. Far too often, healthcare marketers try to wrap their business points in a story and get it wrong. The story has to do the following to work:

  • Reveal something personal.
  • Take patients on a journey that offers a transformation between the beginning and the end.
  • Tap into an emotion, such as fear, desire or hope to motivate the patient to act.

A thinly-disguised marketing message won’t fool anyone, especially when you’re trying to promote patient engagement, because people don’t typically engage with brand communications. They engage with personal ones.

Focus on People

In healthcare you’re marketing to people, not to numbers or companies. You need to understand your target audience thoroughly, draw on a variety of resources and produce material that can inform, guide and inspire creative solutions. That’s the only way it will deliver the desired impact.

The figures quoted justify implementing patient engagement by any means. You can do it by altering your mindset to focus on patients as people, telling their stories in ways that are meaningful and that help to educate them on the importance of health management.

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Social Media Primer for Physicians - Getting Started in Social Media

This is a basic overview for doctors on how to get started in social media. It shows examples of other successful physician uses on Facebook, twitter, pinteres
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