Grief and Remembrance: How Hospital Facebook Pages Can Recognize Crises and End of Life.

fllckr: timparkinson

Yesterday, my husband found out that a good friend of his, whom he had known for over a decade, died in a flying accident. It was, and still is, a shock. They had spoken over the phone on Thursday. His friend was in his early 30s with two children—adventurous, fearless, and charismatic.

My husband first heard the news from a friend on Facebook, who had also discovered the news on Facebook and passed it on to him. Soon, all the friends of this man were writing remembrances on his page and on theirs—missing him, telling stories, sharing photos, celebrating his life.

If any of you have had a friend or family member die in the last few years, you may have witnessed the same reaction. A man I grew up with died unexpectedly last year. He was in his late 20s. I still see posts from his family and friends on his page. Another friend of mine, in his 30s, died suddenly of cancer a few years ago, and I still write on his page when I encounter something that would have made him laugh. In a way, Facebook pages act as virtual gravesites, where we can talk to or remember those who have gone before us. Grief, though it fades, is often lifelong, and we yearn to reconnect with people we’ve loved.

When marketing teams discuss hospital social media, they often do so with the idea that social media is simply a place to disseminate information—in other words, a one-way channel. However, if you look at actual hospital Facebook pages, many of them are places where people remember. They thank the team that helped a family member through a health crisis, or they express appreciation to the staff that was kind and human when a loved one passed on. Many people go back on important anniversaries (of birth, remission, release, or death), just to remember.

A mother on Children’s Hospital Boston’s Facebook page recently wrote: “Keep up the amazing, lifesaving work! You have touched so many of us and we are ever so grateful… A special shout-out to the team at the Advanced Fetal Care Center who performed miracles on our son. Dr. Tworetzky, Dr. Locke, Dr. Marshall, Terra LaFranchi and everyone else who cared for our son—you are our heroes!”

Another woman wrote on M. D. Anderson Cancer Center’s Facebook page, “I truly believe that MD Anderson is an amazing place. It’s a place that has given my family hope and has shown us that giving up is not in their treatment plans, no matter what your situation is. I have never seen a hospital that gives the way they do. They are a true blessing.”

This is why a hospital Facebook page must be a two-way channel. While hospital staff may deal with critical health, injuries, and death on a daily basis, the vast majority of people do not—and for them, their hospital experiences are set apart in their lives and in their minds. An expression of gratitude or a heartfelt remembrance may not ask for a response, but shouldn’t it be given one? After all, these posts center around defining life moments for members of your community. The chance to respond with a personal message from your hospital is a perfect chance to strengthen your patient interactions and show your commitment to quality care.

On Seattle Children’s Hospital‘s Facebook page, a mother recently wrote a remembrance and note of thanks to staff who cared for her baby, who only lived a few days. A Seattle Children’s staff member wrote back, “Hi [mother’s name], we’re deeply sorry for your loss and hope that you and your family are getting all the support you need right now. Thanks for taking the time to share your note here. Our thoughts are with you.”

I thought this was a perfect response by the hospital—caring, professional, and human. By keeping a two-way channel of communication open between staff and patients, Seattle Children’s demonstrates that its commitment to patient care extends to one-on-one interaction, even on Facebook.

The exciting thing is that all hospitals have the opportunity to offer this kind of care to their patients—by treating patients and family members on Facebook pages just as if they were in the halls and rooms of their hospital.

2 replies
  1. Megan
    Megan says:

    Thanks for your response, Carla. I agree that timely, compassionate responses go a long way in establishing relationships with patients and their families. I’m with you in hoping that hospitals will see this as an exciting opportunity rather than a frightening one!

  2. Carla
    Carla says:

    You are so right. Facebook is a channel for two-way communications and the smart hospitals will “get it” and be prepared to handle it. I see way too many sites that are all about talking at their fans and not engaging in discussion — comments that sit unanswered for hours, days — sometimes never even acknowledged. They’ve gotten their Facebook site up, but haven’t invested the energy in the strategy and resources that will drive success.

    As an aside, I was doing an orientation to Facebook for a Children’s hospital that was considering starting a page and pulled up Minnesota Children’s as an example. A young mother had just shared a picture of her baby who had spent time in the NICU and had just died. Facebook is where she connected with her friends to deal with her grief and she reached out to the hospital staff who had supported her throughout her sons stay to say thank you. Their timely and heartfelt response I’m sure helped reinforce her brand loyalty, as evidenced by her almost immediate comment back. As the group observed the exchange they realized that part of the success was the exchange and part was the timeliness. Had the hospital responded a day later, it would have not had the same impact – maybe even a negative impact. My guess, the have a loyal ambassador for their brand.

    For some in healthcare, Facebook and social media are a still novelty they don’t fully understand. For others, we clearly see the opportunity to connect with our customers at a much deeper level.


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