Why social media matters to healthcare providers

Social media offers a huge opportunity for providers to connect with patients, advocates and the industry at large. But its importance has gone unrecognized by many caregivers.

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"I think most people don’t realize how they’re setting a service expectation as a healthcare provider through social media," said Linda Stotsky, social media consultant and CEO of Physician Business Growth Services, who has been active in the healthcare IT social media (HITsm) community since 2008. "It’s not just about having a page; it’s about truly collaborating and communicating with a community."

Stotsky provided the following thoughts about HITsm and ways to optimize its use.

What are the benefits of being involved with HITsm?
"You only need a smartphone or a computer, and you can find out critical information, sync up with others who share your plan or pain, and enlarge your voice in a global community," said Stotsky. By embracing these communities, healthcare providers are able to keep up on the newest developments and trends in the industry. They also have the ability to connect with the healthcare community as a whole. She pointed out what a powerful message this can be: "As technology progresses, you show you’re on the cutting edge. You’re not just an old codger stuck in the past."

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Where do different healthcare providers fit in to HITsm?
Healthcare providers need to employ different social media channels in different ways. Stotsky points out that while many physicians and hospitals use Twitter, they "have a more structured page on Facebook used to promote ongoing educational resources and community services." Social media is about having an ongoing dialogue with an audience to both promote your services but also to hear about new developments and community feedback.

What should healthcare providers do to start their HITsm presence?
Stotsky advises to start slowly by searching for other users who are in a relevant field and watching what they have to say. Once you begin to understand the type of conversation going on in the field, she noted that a user should, "Provide your readers with relevant timely facts. You can refer them back to a web site, or a blog post, as long as it's timely, targeted and topical. Check your timeline several times a day. Respond to every question or comment from followers. Post new and interesting content. Become habitually social."

What are some of the best ways to engage? How will providers know they’re getting it right?
As you connect more and more, Stotsky said, "Look at your followers. Look for consistent growth, retweeted information and 'Likes.'" Keeping track of your social media presence with tools like Google Analytics and Hootsuite are powerful ways to know where you stand. Engaging with the broader HITsm community is also a great way to jump in to the conversation. Stotsky recommended tuning in to the #HITsm tweet chat, which takes place every Friday at noon EST.

Is this something healthcare providers can do on their own?
Social media is inherently democratic, but sometimes navigating the waters can be too much for an already busy provider. Hiring a consultant to handle your social media presence can be a boon, but doing it yourself isn’t impossible either. "This is not an expensive endeavor," explained Stotsky. "Classes are available at lunch or in the evening via webinar." The goal is eventually to be engaged in a conversation with others in the field as well as patients and advocacy groups – so learning the language and getting personally involved is recommended.
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