Providers Slow to Adopt Social Media, Despite Widespread Consumer Use

New research shows that despite widespread use of social media by consumers, health care providers are slow to embrace the medium. Hospitals, in particular, are the slowest to adopt social media beyond marketing purposes, according to a report by The Advisory Board Company, among the top 100 Fortune 500 companies. Still, the report shows that 42 percent of “large, urban, academic and pediatric hospitals” are using social media to engage consumers in some way. The most popular social networks for this group aren’t surprising:

  • 65 percent report maintaining a presence on Twitter.
  • 54 percent are using Facebook.
  • Half (50 percent) have a YouTube channel.

Also citing the technology consulting firm CSC’s findings, Becker’s ASC Review points out that U.S. physicians are lagging behind those in other countries in social media use. The reason, according to some, is fear of malpractice concerns. Most U.S. physicians say they avoid engaging patients via social networking sites simply because any information they post could be “taken out of context and interpreted as medical advice,” says report co-author Caitlin Lorincz.

It’s no surprise that malpractice is top-of-mind for U.S. physicians. The sheer volume of malpractice lawsuits has caused a mass exodus of physicians in several states, a problem compounded by ever-rising insurance premiums, a significant portion of consumers who have no health insurance at all and decreasing reimbursement rates. The cost of malpractice insurance coverage is so high that providers typically join large provider organizations in lieu of opening a private practice to offset some of these costs. But could embracing social media as a healthcare connection tool alleviate some of these issues? Certainly, offering more quality healthcare information to consumers online can reduce the number of office visits necessary, prevent hospitalizations and reduce unnecessary healthcare expenses in some cases.

Caregivers embrace social media.

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Caregivers are Using Social Media

FierceHealthIT points to research by Pew Internet demonstrating that social media usage quadrupled over the past four years in the 50-to-64 age bracket, the demographic that correlates with the highest percentage of family caregivers. Further, a comScore survey shows that, among Boomer Caregivers:

  • 91 percent are using Facebook.
  • 21 percent are using Twitter.

There are also a number of social media sites designed specifically for caregivers. FierceHealthIT points out a few, including:

The difference between these sites and mainstream social networking sites is content geared towards caregivers, such as forums and groups centered around specific caregiving struggles, advice aimed at helping caregivers cope with common stressors and webinars addressing different issues and conditions. These are great benefits, but the problem, of course, is the lack of widespread adoption common to Facebook and Twitter.

So how can providers make efficient use of social networking platforms? Should healthcare systems be referring patients and caregivers to social sites more targeted to their needs, or should providers make more of an effort to actively participate on mainstream networks to engage patients (beyond merely using social media as a marketing tool)? Let us know what you think in the comments.

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