Communication between patients and providers is a pillar of good patient engagement strategy, and social media is presenting new opportunities to promote that.
As a solid Twitter bio or Facebook presence starts to be the standard mode of connectivity across all aspects of life, perhaps it’s time for physicians to jump on board. After all, social media holds more opportunities than just advancing an organization’s brand and marketing strategies; it can also do a lot to help boost patient engagement.
Between offering avenues for patient-provider communication and boosting patient satisfaction, social media is poised to be the next big thing in patient engagement. Leveraging platforms like Twitter and Facebook can help providers increase their overall presence with their patients, in turn promoting better engagement with their care.
Being the fundamental function of social media, increased communication is a bit of a given. Having a social media ambassador represent a healthcare organization on Facebook, or someone keeping track of a Twitter campaign, makes the organization far more available for patients to contact for help.
The Healthcare Information Management Systems Society (HIMSS) says that these platforms lend themselves well to reminding patients to contact their providers with questions through various kinds of posts.
“Although social media is not the most appropriate platform for direct patient-physician communication, it can be used to remind patients to ask questions,” HIMSS explains in an information brief. “Social media can also direct patients to the appropriate secure communication channels, such as their patient portals.”
With such an easy-to-access forum, HIMMS recognizes that some questions are going to pop up on Twitter or Facebook; in these instances, the organization says social media managers should be in charge of redirecting the questions, or having standard answers on hand for general questions (i.e. “how do I make an appointment?”).
“When patients use social media to ask health questions, a smart social media strategy would be to put a ‘no wrong door’ policy in effect,” HIMSS states. “The social media manager can answer general health questions or direct patients to secure channels for addressing more personal health information.”
Building patient satisfaction
Even though it’s not suggested that providers log onto their own personal Facebook profiles to chat with their patients about their health, social media still holds a lot of promise in boosting patient satisfaction due to improved communication.
The overall presence a healthcare organization might have on a patient’s Twitter feed will go a long way in making the patient feel involved in his own healthcare. Through involvement in various campaigns and seeing different daily health tips, patients may feel more empowered in maintaining their own wellness.
Social medial also holds a lot of promise in developing a sense of community. By connecting patients with other patients at the same care facility or receiving guidance toward the same health goals, social media can help build a network of people supporting each other toward better health.
“No matter if it is fitness, chronic conditions, or serious illness, care requires community,” HIMSS says. “Social media extends our community to new relationships, whether through Facebook, secure patient communities, or open online forums. We can connect beyond our immediate four walls yet share a common health bond with others in remote and urban areas.”
Although community building might not have a direct clinical result, it rallies behind patients and improves their satisfaction, which in turn improve their attitudes toward their care.
Increasing patient education
Above all, a robust social media presence holds the promise of improving patient education and health literacy. Because a healthcare organization would be posting to such a public forum with the potential of a large audience, social media has the ability to inform massive amounts of people of healthcare information.
According to a 2014 paper from C. Lee Ventola published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), 80 percent of patients are using the internet, and subsequently social media and blog sites, to get healthcare information. This shows a huge space where healthcare providers can inform their patients of good health habits and information on potential problems they may be having.
And physicians are getting in on the social media action, too.
Physicians are also using social media to promote patient health care education. They tweet, make blog posts, record videos, and participate in disease-specific discussion forums focused on patient education. Such forums provide an important opportunity for physicians to distribute evidence-based information to counter inaccurate material on the Internet. In some social media forums, the public is provided with an opportunity to participate in these discussions.
HIMSS recognizes these opportunities.
“Every physician has a community, a constituency. More than this, each physician as a point of view. Beyond the 15-minute or less visit, physicians can highlight the reasons why taking medication as prescribed is essential,” HIMSS says. “They can raise consumer awareness about healthy habits. Physicians are called to serve their community through their insights delivered in a blog post, video, or other mediums.”
Going forward, providers will need to learn about the social media platforms on which they can engage with their patients – between blogs, videos, and Twitter and Facebook posts, providers have a lot of options for increasing patient health literacy and patient engagement. In turn, patients will need to bear the responsibility of accessing these resources in order to truly stay engaged in the digital space.