Whether health care institutions are generating new business leads or attempting to create a deeper connection with patients, social media play a central role.
More so today than ever before, businesses every day use Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube and other platforms. The field of health care is certainly not immune to social media’s ability to shape experiences, build consumer loyalty and awareness and find new prospects.
“Various social media platforms are a good vehicle for us to publish educational pieces,” said Daniel Ahern, senior vice president for strategy and business development for Reading Health System in West Reading. “We use it to drive business development and communicate information about new products, physicians, general business development. We also use it as a feedback mechanism.”
Hospitals such as Reading Health System now have entire teams dedicated to tracking social media performance and developing new opportunities.
“Compared to a couple of years ago, we didn’t have the high quality content we do have now,” Ahern said.
Reading Health System has more than 4,000 likes on Facebook, about 4,000 views on its YouTube format, and 1,100 followers on Twitter. Also, its LinkedIn network brings in about 3,500 followers.
“We’re still continuing to see growth in new access and new users in those platforms,” Ahern said.
Facebook is the primary form of social media for some hospitals, including those in St. Luke’s University Health Network, headquartered in Fountain Hill.
However, the network also uses YouTube, Twitter and, to a lesser extent, LinkedIn, although social media use is relatively new to the network, according to Kenneth Szydlow, vice president of marketing, advertising and public relations for St. Luke’s.
“For us, our social media strategy is relatively young,” he said. “Social media and health care is still a relatively young marketing and public relations conduit.”
St. Luke’s began using social media for marketing about two years ago, with two basic strategies driving it.
The network has used social media to create a greater awareness of its services and also to promote proactive, healthy living initiatives. One example is St. Luke’s partnership with Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor to encourage participants in a scheduled challenge to walk or run a number of miles for the “Get Your Tail on the Trail” program from May to November.
Szydlow said when St. Luke’s began the program, it would have been happy to get 200 participants. Today, it has about 4,000 people who have registered. The only cost to the network is the time spent getting out the message.
“Here we have a proactive healthy program where we haven’t spent any real marketing dollars,” Szydlow said.
St. Luke’s has 3,000-plus followers on Facebook and about 7,000 followers on Twitter, Szydlow said. Still, he would like to broaden the group of St. Luke’s employees who are tweeting.
The network is looking at ways to use social media to identify knowledgeable employees, including clinical staff at St. Luke’s, and give them a voice to counterbalance misinformation that might be out on social media platforms. Today, the risk with social media is that anyone can post anything, just about anywhere, Szydlow said.
Though social media allow the network to capture a younger patient market very quickly, older patients also are using it and adapting to it faster than people thought, Szydlow said.
Szydlow sees social media having an increasing presence in health care and one that is inextricably linked with faster and easier access to services.
Patients at St. Luke’s will soon use social media to interact with physicians and staff, seek out information about clinical conditions, book appointments and for other activities that show telemedicine and social media are on a path that intersects, Szydlow said.
Patients in some parts of the nation already do this, but across the country, overall use of social media among hospitals is fairly new, according to Szydlow.
At Coordinated Health, social media are part of the physician-owned hospital system’s digital tactics.
“Our social media strategy is strongly connected to our other customer-first digital services,” said Jim Tsokanos, president of Coordinated Health, with headquarters in Bethlehem.
For example, the new coordinatedhealth.com website provides a “Make An Appointment” button on each page, where potential patients interested in a specific physician or service can instantaneously request an appointment.
“Our social platform allows us to listen to existing and prospective customers around the clock and to always respond in a timely and helpful manner to their questions and comments,” Tsokanos said. “We’ll soon be introducing a social media initiative that will provide timely and useful engagement tools, all focused on helping customers.”