We know all about the impact of social media and how Boomers are increasingly becoming active participants. Obviously, the CPG and technology markets have led the way, there’s a proliferation of personal healthcare apps out there, and even the retirement living market is beginning to play catch-up. The hospital industry, on the other hand, has been the slowest to adopt this platform, with reasons ranging from HIPAA concerns to staffing issues to the difficulty of securing buy-in from staff physicians.
Yet the opportunity and demand are there. And while traditional TV, print advertising and even paid search are still valuable vehicles for hospitals, the Internet and social media are becoming increasingly vital, particularly in reaching the ever-connected, ever-empowered Boomer healthcare consumer.
A study compiled by DC Interactive Group showed that most people said they would trust healthcare information found on social media channels, and more than 40% said social media would affect their choice of healthcare provider.
Google reports that 94% of prospective patients said facility reputation is top in hospital selection, and about 77% used search prior to booking an appointment – with about a third using their tablets or mobile devices to do so. YouTube traffic to hospital sites has increased 119% year-over-year. TeleVox notes that more than 50% say they’d feel more valued as a patient via digital health communications.
Yet only 26% of all hospitals in the U.S. participate in social media.
Smart hospitals are beginning to bring social media into the equation to help them brand, manage reputations and provide helpful, reliable information to potential patients. The Mayo Clinic is often cited as an example of a sophisticated online program, as are Massachusetts General Hospital, Brigham and Women’s, UPMC and the Cleveland Clinic.
With the advent of accountable care organizations (ACOs), there could be some real opportunities for providers to band together with shared online efforts, including jointly operated chat rooms or social networks that create communities around age-appropriate issues or ailments. Think joint replacement surgery, prostate cancer, osteoporosis and the like. Other content could include healthy lifestyle tips, warning signs, surgical/non-surgical options and post-surgery recovery plans. Using social media, patients could share experiences and tips for dealing with a specific disease or common side effects.
By including multiple providers, the information would build on the expertise of everyone represented – not to mention the ability to manage discussions. Patients would be able to keep informed about the latest medical breakthroughs, while the facilities responsible for them would enhance their position as thought leaders.
QR codes could also be employed to promote certain services a hospital offers or receive appointment reminders. Placing them in targeted ads could send users to a link with tours of the facility’s patient rooms, imaging centers or therapy areas. These codes could also take potential patients to the hospital’s Facebook page, where they can share their stories and interact with their doctors, or to YouTube for patient testimonials.
These online communities could also allow physicians to both interact (within HIPAA boundaries, of course) and maintain control over the care and health information posted. Posts could include general disease management, answers to common questions and links to additional resources. Using Twitter, health tips from doctors can be posted, along with announcements for special events. Johns Hopkins is one example of a hospital tweeting along these lines.
Social media is only perpetuating patients’ demands to become more in control of their health. How healthcare facilities market to these potential patients needs to change and focus on participatory, patient-centered and personalized healthcare. They need to capture and engage, rather than alienate the attention and spending power of an important Boomer demographic — a group that’s experiencing the issues of declining health.
Whether they’ll admit it or not.