“I Hate Hospitals”—Creating a Positive Online Presence through Social Media

Since Hive Strategies focuses on helping hospitals engage patients through social media, I have several columns in my TweetDeck dedicated to healthcare. One in particular searches for tweets about #hospitals. If there is any day-to-day consistency in these tweets, it’s some variation of this phrase: “I hate hospitals.”

Usually, the reason for this hatred is clear: a loved one is sick or injured and the tweeter is scared. He or she is anxiously waiting in the ER or in an unfamiliar room for some news. And, with the close proximity of a Blackberry or an iPhone, his or her fear is quickly shared with followers. The question for hospitals, then, is “Can anything be done?” Luckily, the answer is a resounding, “Yes!” Here are two important lessons to be learned from this situation:

1. Create expert-supported, patient-centered online communities.

Obviously, it wouldn’t be efficient or even prudent to respond to every tweet about hospitals with a rejoinder. However, hospitals can counter negativity by having a calm, informative, expert online presence. Being in the game, rather than watching from the sidelines, is a must.

Creating online communities where patients can engage with physicians and staff is a sign that a hospital cares about the well-being of its patients—whether through Facebook, Twitter, blogs, e-books and pamphlets, or online support groups and pages. And informed, plugged-in patients are also able to make better decisions about their healthcare, which, in turn, helps providers.

2. Monitor online comments in order to learn and make positive changes.

Hospitals can also take advantage of the subtleties of social media in order to gauge the concerns of their patients. By monitoring comments about hospitals near their own geographic location and areas of expertise, hospitals can use the off-the-cuff, frank observations of tweeters, bloggers, and Facebook members to make changes in how they serve clients. Free access to honest patient opinions can only be seen as an advantage.

Like all developments in a rapidly changing world, social media can work for us if we acknowledge its breadth and take advantage of its influence. I’m looking forward to more tweets that say, “I love my hospital!”

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