Social Networking in Healthcare

August 31, 2009
Lisa Schulmeister

Hospitals and healthcare providers are increasingly using social networking to reach patients.

Social networking is increasingly being used to reach patients. Of 297 US hospitals using these tools, 213 have Twitter accounts, 174 have YouTube channels, 109 maintain Facebook pages, and 26 have blogs. The complete list, most recently updated on June 15, 2009, is available at http://ebennett.org/hsnl and includes links from a specific hospital to its social networking sites.

I randomly clicked on some of the links and found a great deal of variation on how hospitals are currently using social networking tools. Some hospitals remain fairly primitive in their approach and content while others are quite sophisticated. Another observation was that while some hospitals are frequently updating their sites (some updating daily), there are some that have not updated in quite a while. The social networking tools are intended to reach and engage patients. Most offer education, usually on specific types of procedures or medical conditions. Some use a patient-centered approach and profile patients with particular diseases. Feedback, also known as "community participating in the social networking arena," also varies. Some pages have hundreds of views and comments while others have just a few.

Quite interesting is what hospitals are "twittering" about. Twitter utilizes messages of no more than 140 characters, so concisely conveying news or information is required. Hospitals tend to tweet about hospital news, especially awards and recognition, and attempt to provide snapshot education. For instance, one hospital sent the tweet "avoiding shin splints" that links to a patient information webpage created by the orthopedics department. Only a handful of facilities utilize all four social networking approaches.

There are over 2,000 hospitals in the US and approximately 15% are currently using one or more social networking tools. Utilization will likely increase in the future and it will be interesting to see if patients actually use, and benefit from, the information that hospitals convey on their social networking sites.