Is Your Hospital’s Social Media Plan Having Unintended Consequences?

While driving to my office, I often listen to NPR’s On Point. A recent show focused on “Life with Texting” and featured David Gerzof Richard, professor of social media and marketing at Emerson College and founder of BigFish; William Powers, author of Hamlet’s Blackberry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age; and Sue Shellenbarger, of Wall Street Journal’s “Work and Family Life” column.

The conversation spurred a lot of interest by callers, and soon expanded into the broader conversation about changes that come with a digital life. At one point the conversation shifted to healthcare and electronic medical records (EMRs) when a caller complained that since technology was introduced in his doctor’s office, he felt like his doctor never made eye contact with him.

Although the caller admitted that the doctor was reading his record or, at times, inputting information into his laptop, the lack of eye contact made the patient doubt that the physician was really listening to him. The patient was so concerned about this, that he was considering changing doctors.

I am sure when the physician made the switch to EMRs that he was thinking of the advantages to his practice and his patients, and hadn’t considered how the change in technology might change his own behavior.

Let’s face it, we implement social media and web technologies because it helps us engage our patients, but there is also the opportunity for added efficiency. The key is making sure that efficiency never trumps engagement. Engagement helps us better understand our patients and leads to excellence (if we are open to listening).

When implementing social media at your hospital, it’s important to identify all the advantages, but you should also consider how the technology might shift behaviors or practices–those unintended consequences.

For example, when callers ask for directions, do the receptionists immediately direct them to the web? Or do they first ask if the caller has access to the web? Do your birthing center lactation consultants still make frequent visits to new moms, or do they direct them to their instructional videos available on YouTube? Do your pharmacists still patiently answer questions about medications? Or do they quickly send all inquiries to the website? Does your CEO still personally thank staff, or does he or she think recognition in his or her blog is sufficient?

Anticipating unintended consequences – those possible shifts in behavior ­­– should be part of your implementation strategy. Create awareness of possible behavior shifts before you implement social media and new technologies, and then do some spot checks after implementation to stave off unintended behavior changes and help your hospital maintain excellent service.


How we help

Hive Strategies helps hospitals engage patients through social media. We don’t manage social media. Instead, we help hospitals develop an effective social media strategy and mentor them through the implementation process. Start a conversation. Email us or call us at 503-472-5512.


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