As someone who grew up on two continents, with friends scattered all over the world, I’m on Facebook daily. And, yes, I use it occasionally to help me find a new doctor or ask a random medical question. When I have a good or bad experience – especially in healthcare – I’m likely to rant or rave on Twitter (@LizBoehm for those who care to indulge). Why should you care? Because there are millions more like me, and many who are far more engaged than I. And many of them are patients.
Social media encompasses a rather broad array of resources. Tools like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter may be the most famous (infamous?), but blogs, wikis, podcasts, even product reviews all hold a place in the social media pantheon.
You can think of social media as both an amplifier and a filter. Social media tools allow voices that used to only be heard locally reach national, even global audiences. That means that powerful stories – both positive and negative – can permeate the atmosphere like never before. They also enable users to focus in on not just the topics they are interested in, but to sift through perspectives until they find the ones they find most compelling and credible. And unlike traditional marketing or peer-reviewed journals, consumers are in control of setting their own credibility parameters.
By now I hope the implications of social media and patient experience are starting to become clear. In many ways, patient experience boils down to story – stories clinicians tell patients to help them understand what’s happening or how to take care of themselves, stories patients tell clinicians to help them understand their pains and preferences, stories administrators tell staff to try to get them on board with patient experience programs. Social media is an amplifier of stories.
Specific uses of social media for patient experience include employing social listening platforms (such as Radian6 and Visible Technologies) to understand what patients are saying about their experiences with your clinic or hospital, or posting videos of your physicians or procedures (similar to those on the Cancer Treatment Center of America’s site) to help patients set appropriate expectations before they arrive. There’s no way to go into every application of social media in healthcare and patient experience here, but let me highlight a few of my favorites:
- When innovation leaders at Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Center in the Netherlands realized that their young adult and adolescent cancer patients were falling through the cracks between their pediatric and adult oncology care resources, they created a secure online community geared specifically to the needs of these patients. Patients can swap experiences and advice on dealing with cancer, dating, school, parents, and other crucial life experiences as they work through their treatment – all without “adult supervision” apart from a trusted community manager who ensures participants follow community guidelines. Patients get better support, and Radboud has the reassurance that they can access hospital-approved content and resources. Learn more by reading Forrester Research’s case study on the community.
- CarePages recognizes that patients need to connect with friends and family members to help them heal, but also that responding to phone calls and repeating details about diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment plan can be draining at times. CarePages’ patient blogs lets patients and family members share their stories – and solicit support – without always relying on one-to-one communication. Patients and family members draw emotional and spiritual support, which enables them to approach their treatments with hope and resiliency. Just imagine putting physician voice into the equation, so that family and friends can hear physicians’ words of wisdom (with patient permission, of course) without overburdening their schedules with repetitive phone calls and meetings.
- The Mayo Clinic’s Director for Social Media, Lee Aase understands the power of storytelling. Lee’s role in media relations quickly morphed into one of master of social media as he and his team unlocked the power of radio, podcasts, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter to share Mayo-related stories that range from the adorable (check out this adorable couple in the Mayo lobby – trust me, it’s worth watching all the way through) to the touching. And among the most powerful? Aase launched an internal blog called Sharing Mayo Clinic to share the physician and patient stories that sometimes get lost in the shuffle, but that also serve powerfully to reconnect physicians and staff to their healing missions. Oh, and in true social fashion, Aase has created an open resource, Social Media University, Global (or SMUG) to help others tap into the world of social media.
Ultimately, social media tools are nothing more or less than a platform for content creation, sorting, filtering, and distribution. In other words, they are a tool for telling and hearing stories. And since patient experience is inherently social, and fundamentally about communication, the impact of social media on patient experience is limited only by imagination. Okay, and lawyers. But if you remember that lawyers don’t get fired by saying, “no,” your job is simply to tell a story that gets them to “yes.” And maybe spread that story through the right media. Social or otherwise.
Note: This article originally appeared on Emmi Solutions Engaging the Patient blog on November 26, 2012.
About the Author:
Liz Boehm is the Director of ExperiaHealth‘s Patient Experience Collaborative, where she brings a wealth of expertise on defining and implementing new innovations in healthcare experience, and helping hospitals and care providers create lasting value for patients and caregivers. Through the Collaborative, she helps ExperiaHealth’s clients create a competitive advantage via the sharing and adoption of practices and technologies that improve outcomes, create value for patients, and restore the human connection in healthcare.
Liz joined ExperiaHealth from Forrester Research where she was a principal analyst serving customer experience professionals in the healthcare and life sciences industries. During Liz’s 15 years at Forrester, she worked with the country’s top hospitals, health insurers and life science firms to craft customer experience strategies and drive business value through improved customer engagement.