Social Media Considerations For Healthcare Marketers

A patient’s family excoriates ER staff for perceived poor service across multiple social media platforms, generating waves of likes, retweets, and shares.

A caretaker with a heart of gold shares encouraging sentiments with a patient via a social site – and breaches HIPAA.

An inappropriate video of a patient goes viral – resulting in massive media coverage and a lawsuit.

Social media is a pivotal element in healthcare marketing, and an essential tool for patient education and relationship development. It’s also a de facto customer service platform, and therefore both a vital channel for and potential impetus to crisis communications. If it hasn’t already happened, soon someone will try to tweet for emergency care, expecting immediate response.

Consumer digital expectations can run up against the patient privacy protections. Meanwhile, providers and staff may not realize how broadly privacy protections apply. Several well-publicized cases have demonstrated that any details allowing a patient to be identified can be sufficient grounds for litigation, professional sanctions, and even firing. This complexity makes it vital for healthcare organizations to invest in the strategy, governance, and vigilance to deliver a positive and responsible social media presence and corresponding digital crisis communications capacity. 



Realistic and Proficient Social Team Staffing – and Authority

Effective social strategy, planning, execution, and oversight hinge on a well-qualified and adequately staffed professional social media team. The social team must understand the organization’s marketing environment, business plan, and vulnerabilities. They are both marketing practitioners and the front line against reputation damage and liability through timely and sensitive moderation – with the training, judgment, and authority to enforce internal standards, and respond to or escalate emerging issues before they reach crisis levels.

Clear Internal and External Social Media Policy

Healthcare organizations need thoughtful internal and external social media policy, posted in lay-friendly, easy-to-understand language. Particularly for internal guidance, it’s essential to be clear and specific. The American Medical Association has general guidance for practitioners, as does the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. Borrow liberally from these and other healthcare examples to craft policy that is actionable – defining your standards and guiding staff in participating responsibly on your business platforms and their private social channels.

Staff Training

Orienting new staff to your social media policies while on-boarding is essential, but it’s equally important to provide periodic refreshers for all staff. Use examples from your organization’s experience and the news to illustrate pitfalls and inappropriate vs. appropriate social uses. Also share effective healthcare social campaigns and initiatives to give your providers and staff new ideas and encouragement to contribute.

Contingency Planning

Create a response framework that anticipates and defines classes of problematic social media activities and messages, and identifies response roles, responsibilities, actions, and messaging. Your team won’t use the framework to generate robo-replies, but rather to ensure that there is consistent and appropriate response that can be tailored for predictable issues.

Internal Partnership for Timely Response

Your social team must be partnered with liaisons from patient advocacy, customer service, billing, and other departments to coordinate hot issues. A primary and a back-up lead for each relevant area should be designated and ready to help quickly formulate and approve responses, and take appropriate action on an expedited basis. Organizations that offer healthcare services outside the standard business hours for key departments should have an “on call” policy for sensitive or urgent issues. Being told to speak to a customer service rep or patient advocate during regular business hours will only fan the flames for an individual facing a health crisis at 2 a.m.

Continuous Review and Assessment

Healthcare and social media are both in constant and rapid flux. Revisit policies, processes, and staffing regularly to incorporate lessons learned, adapt to new requirements, and ensure that your organization remains well positioned and prepared.

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