The Social Media and Patient Privacy Balance

It has become commonplace for businesses to use social media to build brand awareness, increase customer engagement, offer customer service while promoting their product or service. For health care organizations, though, customer service via social media is much more complex, partly because of the information that providers want to impart, and partly out of privacy and sensitivity concerns. One rural Washington hospital is very active on social media, working to engage their patients outside the exam room, as well as connect with other health partner’s pages according to a report in the Yakima Herald.

Mary Kay Clunies-Ross, spokeswoman for the Washington State Hospital Association, told the newspaper they balance patient privacy and sensitivity concerns with their efforts to engage with patients through social media on web sites such as Facebook. They use social media as a way, for instance, to promote a road race a hospital is sponsoring or to let people know about a nurse who won an award, and provide information about health initiatives at their facility.

According to Fierce Healthcare, healthcare organizations’ level of social media activity varies. One 2013 study found that 18 percent of hospitals actively manage Facebook pages. For the Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital a communications specialist monitors their social media pages using software programs designed to alert staff of hospital related content and is used as a tool to post photos of events, share job openings, and offer customer service.

The hospital hasn’t yet had issues with people posting overly personal details about their medical care but officials say they would evaluate on a case-by-case basis whether those posts should be taken down for privacy reasons, which the patient might not have taken into account.

While many healthcare organizations attempt to figure out how social media fits into their marketing strategy, more and more healthcare professionals are joining in. Twitter seems to be the crowd favorite more than 75,000 doctors, nurses, and pharmacists and consultants post 152,000 tweets a day according to research by Creation Healthcare, a London-based research and training consultancy. The Mayo Clinic has over 500,000 Facebook fans and almost one million followers on Twitter.

How are you utilizing social media tools to help promote your brand?