I recently read an article from the Wall Street Journal of “More Than Two-Thirds of United States Consumers Seek Medical Advice Via the Internet and Social Media.” When I first read it, I wasn’t surprised to see that they seek it through the Internet, but I was surprised to see social media in the headline.
Social media a source for medical advice? Really?
But as I thought about it, I could see what would drive an individual, desperate for help, to call out on a public forum. So many Americans are without health insurance, and those who do have it may be worried about paying high medical bills for the services they do receive. So it seems plausible that they would look to other places to determine if what is ailing them is serious enough to require a doctor’s visit or to find answers without having to make an appointment.
One example of people seeking medical advice through social media is on the Mayo Clinic’s Facebook page.
In the span of just one week, I saw posts from people asking what to do about a high pulse rate to chest pains from smoking to how to get rid of a sinus infection to types of surgery that can fix macular degeneration to a graphic photo of a wound and asking why it won’t heal (yes, really).
Fortunately, the Clinic has someone who responds to many of the requests for appointments. They offer contact information for their appointment hotlines, and online resources for people with questions regarding specific conditions. However, I have yet to see a policy stated on their page that lets visitors know they should not be posting medical questions.
Facebook is a powerful tool for hospitals in many ways. It’s an opportunity to reach a wide range of patients, humanize the staff and foster two-way communication between patients and healthcare providers. But it is not a medical advice portal, and using the Mayo Clinic as an example, it is crucial to address this issue as you are developing your social media strategy and before you launch your Facebook page.
Here are a few tips you can follow to develop your Facebook policy regarding medical information
- Develop a disclaimer letting fans know they should not seek medical advice on your page, but instead contact the hospital directly or, in case of an emergency, call 911.
- Identify a procedure for responding to medical questions. Will you provide them with contact information they can use to seek care? Or will you refer them to your web site?
- Determine a schedule for reviewing your page for content and when you will respond. You may decide to check it every day for new posts, or every few days. It’s up to you.
I encourage you to be proactive and however apprehensive you may feel about handling these types of questions, don’t let the types of comments posted by the visitors on the Mayo Clinic page scare you away from having a Facebook page for your hospital. Everything published on your page provides an opportunity for you to engage with your fans on a personal level. Not only can you offer resources to them, but you can position your hospital as one that cares about the well-being of its patients.