Take two and Tweet me in the Morning: How Social Media is Reshaping Health Care


Applied Clinical Trials

Given the rapid changes in the communication landscape brought about by participative Internet use and social media, it is important to develop a better understanding of these technologies and their impact on health communication.

Given the rapid changes in the communication landscape brought about by participative Internet use and social media, it is important to develop a better understanding of these technologies and their impact on health communication. From 2005 to 2017 participation in social networking sites more than quadrupled. In the health communication community, there is a widespread assumption that recent advances in Internet technologies, particularly social media, have transformed the pattern of communication, including health-related communications.

In today’s changing healthcare landscape, the use of social media has a direct implication for health communication programs, prompting efforts to identify new opportunities of using social media to impact patient care. Social media has played an integral role in improving lives of patient’s and healthcare companies are on the forefront of this technological breakthrough through several important ways. First, the Internet-based social networks increase social support and interconnectivity among individuals. Second, with the increase of user-generated content, information sharing is seen as more democratic and patient controlled, enabling users to exchange health-related information that they need and therefore making the information more patient/consumer-centered Third, in recent times, public health programs have demonstrated success in adapting social media as a communication platform for health promotion efforts such as smoking cessation, kidney disease education, and dietary interventions, increasing their reach through cyberspace. Social media, a great information equalizer, is radically transforming the way people communicate around the world. Until recently the predominant communication model was "one" authority to "many". Social media has changed the monologue to a dialogue, where anyone with internet access can be a content creator and communicator.

Protecting Patient Information:

With the rise of health-related information being shared over social media on a daily basis, it is vital that healthcare workers educate themselves on how to keep patient information confidential.
The Healthcare Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was enacted by Congress in 1996 with the intent of providing patients more control over their healthcare records. HIPPA encompasses a variety of key points including:

  Reducing healthcare fraud

  Implementing industry-wide standards for information provided on electronic billing

  •   Providing health insurance to individuals that are changing or have lost their jobs

In terms of protecting healthcare information, HIPPA sets guidelines that pertain to the protection and confidential handling of an individual’s health records. These guidelines have become somewhat of an issue in terms of social media. Healthcare professionals cannot directly address patients through these outlets as it violates the privacy and confidentiality regulations outlined by HIPPA. Other healthcare facilities are encouraged to implement strict policies and guidelines for what employees are allowed to post on social networking websites. Some ways to avoid HIPPA violations include:

  •  Distribute clear social networking policies to employees

  Avoid any discussion of patients, even in general terms

  Speak generally about conditions and treatments

  Prominently post your policies and procedures on all social media platforms

  •   Do not practice medicine online by responding to patients offline

Utilizing Social Media

There is a variety of ways that healthcare managers are utilizing social media to enhance their services and provide patients with accurate medical information. Here are the top ways professionals in the field are using social media:

#1: Share Information

Social media is intended to provide individuals the ability to access information quickly and communicate with others. Healthcare organizations utilize these tools and websites to share information with consumers in a variety of ways such as sharing general information about flu shots and tips to avoid a cold. Sharing news regarding outbreaks or health hazards is an effective way for healthcare facilities to provide accurate information to patients. It is important to note that all patient specific information requires permission along with a signed release. Other forms of sharing information through social media include:

  Provide updates on new technologies

  Introduce new doctors in a practice on social networks

  Answer questions on various topics (e.g. how to reach doctors or hours of operation)

  •   Offer patients any updates that relate to the practice itself

#2: Compare and Improve Quality

Another effective way that healthcare managers utilize social media is by spending time evaluating their competitors to get an insight into the services they offer and overall patient satisfaction. By taking a look into different practices and their social media involvement, professionals have the ability to mimic these methods to enhance their own. Some organizations will do better through social media; providers can determine whether or not they need to take more appropriate action to quickly respond to patient requests and improve customer service.

To gather feedback and improve quality, social media interaction can provide doctors and physicians with immediate responses from individuals to help understand common reactions to medications, as well as overall consensus from patients on new techniques in the industry. Using this information that is readily available on social media allows for healthcare organizations to learn from patient reactions and adjust accordingly. By following feedback on these sites, healthcare professionals also have the opportunity to evaluate the possibility of additional services in the industry.

#3: Train Medical Personnel

Some healthcare organizations have begun to utilize social media channels as part of their training process. During presentations, trainees are encouraged to use certain hash tags on Twitter or join other groups to engage one another to make training processes more enjoyable and interactive.

These training techniques provide trainees a central location to ask questions and quickly receive answers. Social media gives participants the power to provide presenters with immediate feedback on training sessions.

Trainees are not the only people who benefit from this social media technique. Organizations can use training videos and pictures from training sessions to engage audiences and enhance their social media channels by marketing their facilities and exemplifying their innovating training processes.

#4: Live Updates during Procedures

Although somewhat controversial, there has been an increase of doctors and surgeons providing updates from the operating room. Through Twitter and other social media outlets, healthcare professionals have the ability to deliver up–to-date information during procedures to fellow doctors, medical students or simply curious individuals. Some say these updates are a distraction in the operating room, while others argue that it is an innovation and provides educational value that should be embraced.

** Keep that “Dancing Doctor” in mind when discussing the possibility of sharing any medical procedure via social media!

As a marketing approach, organizations create a buzz on social media with these updates, creating excitement and enhancing public awareness of an individual organization to attract patients and medical personnel.

#5: Communicate in Times of Crisis

In times of crisis, the use of social media has increased to provide minute-by-minute information to consumers. Through social media, hospitals and other organizations are able to deliver real-time updates on hospital capacity, operation status, and emergency room access. Having an active social media presence allows healthcare professionals to pass along information shared by organizations such as the Red Cross, and the Centers for Disease Control or communicate with news outlets.

As social media continues to become a valuable asset to healthcare organizations and new methods of use are implemented, the industry requires administrators to set guidelines and procedures for effectively managing these channels. To provide the best customer service and accurate information while adhering to HIPAA regulations, organizations need individuals versed in the healthcare administration.

According to the Pew Institute, the growing popularity of social media in health care can be attributed to two key factors:

1. The wide spread use of social media tools
2. The growing desire for patients, particularly those afflicted by chronic illness, to connect with each other

Coupled with other online resources, social media now largely impacts the way people interact with information-including health-related content. And while most patients continue to prefer face-to-face interaction with their health care providers, online health resources, including social, are now an extremely important supplementary tool in their health journey.

There is a wealth of healthcare information and communication technologies that transform how providers and patients think about access, and act upon, digitally supplied healthcare information. The transformation has an impact upon the clinical encounters, rendering the traditional face-to-face patient encounters as one of many options, and often not the preferred one. Social media facilitates instantaneous information sharing and patients seem to be way ahead of healthcare professionals when using digital technology to access health information. With the easily accessible Internet and the Internet of Things (IoT) now increasing connectivity in the USA and abroad, patients and Healthcare Providers (HCP) are more able than ever before to communicate in ways that will change how patients receive care now and in the future.

It’s no longer a matter of IF...it’s all about the HOW...Physicians and hospitals are personally well acquainted with social media and the Internet as a professional resource. The rise of social media in the world has affected many different aspects of our lives. From the way we communicate with others to how we shop, dine, and travel, social media has impacted how efficient and informed we are. Its impact on the health care industry is evident as well. The internet allows people to research symptoms, nearby doctors, and medications and their effects. More and more people are sharing information about health care, including reviews about doctors, their experiences with illness and opinions on different therapies. People can also use social media to ask for advice and search for information on the go, which is an important benefit to many people in the workforce who may not have time to consult a physician face to face.



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Jeff Parke, Research Project Coordinator, IQVIA

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