Healthcare professionals have traditionally been slower than other industries to adopt social media as a tool for engaging with patients or promoting their practice. That hesitancy is not without merit. More than most other fields, privacy is of the utmost importance in healthcare.
If done properly, however, social media can have a seriously positive impact on the patient experience, leading to higher levels of patient satisfaction. Those increased levels of satisfaction can lead to loyalty, referrals, glowing reviews and more, which can all impact the bottom line of a practice…in a good way.
Some healthcare professionals tread carefully to avoid legal trouble, and as a result often miss out on the benefits of social media.
Others, such as Calgary’s Market Mall Eye Clinic in the example below, take advantage of sites like Facebook to announce promotional offers and promote wellness.
Image: Facebook post showing how practices can use social media to inform without crossing the line
If done properly, social media can have a positive impact on the practice as well as on the patients. Let’s take a look at the impact on patients. Here are a few of the ways that social media is serving to improve the patient experience.
Offer tips to improve health
Studies have shown that around 80% of Internet users have searched for a healthcare related topic at one time or another. The problem is, some of the information they find can be misleading or just plain false.
Rather than leaving patients to fend for themselves and having to rely on this faulty information, providers can create a successful social media presence that presents those patients with accurate, timely and high quality information.
By getting involved in the conversation, providers can empower patients to take charge of their health and be more engaged.
Empowered patients seek to obtain accurate info that can help them avoid more serious ailments by finding the right info online, getting to their doctor when necessary and getting the right care at the right time. For providers, being the source of this empowering info can lead to loyalty and increased satisfaction among their patients.
Receive feedback (and change the world)
In addition to survey platforms and other tools that allow practices to gain significant insights into the patient experience, social media is also great for uncovering ways to help improve the patient experience. By monitoring social media conversations and joining related health forums, providers can dig into what patients are saying, learn how they’re finding information about their health and discover ways to help improve the experience for their own patients.
Providers can find out where patients are frustrated, learn about their preferences and discover ways to improve all kinds of aspects about their practice. Are patients frustrated about waiting times? Do particular providers’ names keep popping up associated with negative feedback? Providers should be prepared for both the good and the bad and then look for ways to improve the bad and enhance the good to create a better experience for patients.
Providers can even uncover areas where they can offer solutions to larger problems. For example, researchers at Brigham Young University recently used social media listening to monitor 213,633 tweets from 132,099 unique users.
They listened to college students’ discussions about Aderall to determine whether the drug, traditionally prescribed to patients diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder, was being abused as a study aid during exam times. Findings like these can then be used to intervene and develop tools and tactics to help curb negative trends.
Enhance information accessibility
From the largest of health systems to the smallest one-person practice, having a website where patients can access the info they need is critical. Social media can be a way to amplify that information.
Not everyone is going to go to the trouble of navigating a website to find the info they’re seeking, so publishing info about more frequently searched for content can really help improve the patient experience. Social media also serves as a pro-active tool to get important info out to patients before they find themselves in a place where they need to search for it.
Pushing information out to patients goes beyond convenience for patients alone. It makes customer service much more streamlined for the providers as well. By answering questions up front to a mass audience via social media, providers can avoid a lot of unnecessary and time consuming email and phone conversations.
Approach with cautious enthusiasm
Providers shouldn’t toss the office phone in the trash or abandon email just yet. Social media can help healthcare professionals reach a wider audience and connect with patients on a whole new level, but it needs to complement other forms of communication, not replace them.
To be truly effective, social media in healthcare should be used to fine tune communication and marketing tactics.
It can’t stand alone, but used in tandem with a strong, fully developed communications strategy (one that also takes into account legal risks and incorporates steps to avoid any issues), social media can significantly enhance the patient experience by changing the way healthcare communicates with its target audience.
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