Health Care Communication in a Social Media World

Web and social media channels give healthcare providers a range of opportunities to reach out to consumers.
Image courtesy of Navigator Cision

Amy Wagner, Principal Managing ConsultantPicture this: it’s 11 a.m. on a Thursday morning, and you’re already worn out. So far today, you’ve woken up, rallied your kids off to school, run to the post office (yes, they still have those), made a deposit at the bank…wait! Didn’t you have a doctor’s appointment today? At 11? AUGHHH!

You hustle off from the bank, deposit slip still in hand, and speed to the doctor’s office, but by the time you arrive it’s too late—you have missed your appointment, and now you are stuck spending your afternoon waiting for a cancellation. Unless, of course, someone else forgets to show up.

And as you sit there, among the other prospective patients and three-month-old copies of People magazine, you can’t help but wonder, “Isn’t there a better way? Isn’t there some way they could have reminded me about my appointment? Couldn’t this whole, miserable process just be a whole lot easier?” And here’s the thing: it could be.

No one looks forward to a doctor’s visit—or, worse, a hospital visit—but it’s a necessary fact of life. So there’s no reason why healthcare organizations cannot use the incredible communication resources afforded by the Web, mobile devices, and social media to help make the whole process less painful (relatively speaking, of course).

Just think of all the possibilities: what if doctors used an automated service that reminded patients about upcoming appointments? Or how about a mobile app that lets patients schedule, reschedule, or cancel their appointments? Or a Website with a complete database of all doctors and their specialties? Or a Twitter account to address basic patient inquiries? The possibilities go on and on.

These sorts of communication tools are going to become more important and in demand as young people, who have grown up with a sea of Web-based and mobile communication options, begin to seek services from health care organizations. By that point, such innovations will no longer be a novelty—they will be a necessity.

In fact, the move in that direction has already begun, with many industry leaders embracing social media as a valuable communication tool. The Mayo Clinic is actively using social media to answer questions and post patient stories and testimonials, and the Cleveland Clinic has set up a social media council to interact with followers on Facebook and Twitter.

But don’t think the improvements will only benefit patients: with fewer missed appointments and faster patient turnaround, health care organizations will operate more efficiently, thereby saving money and improving the patient experience. Plus, with social media, heath care organizations can establish stronger ties with their patients, while consumers will gain an additional channel through which they can communicate with their healthcare providers. Everybody wins.

With a website or mobile initiative, health care organizations can transform the patient experience. Have you encountered any of these solutions or implemented them in your organization? Leave a comment and tell me about it!