Flash Points and the Compounding Effect of Social Media for Healthcare

flickr: Sean MacEntee

My daughter is preparing to leave for college, and these last two weeks have been filled with goodbyes as her friends scatter across the country to attend various colleges.

Last week, one of her friends who had already headed off to college posted a Facebook photo of herself hooked up to an IV in the hospital, with the caption, “My first IV.” My daughter quickly texted her friend to find out the complete story and shared the story with me (and I’m glad to report it was only an allergic reaction and she’s fine).

When I saw the girl’s mother later in the week, I asked about her daughter and she shared an even more detailed story about enduring a mother’s worry as her only child, who had left home for the first time just one week earlier, went through a hospital experience without any family nearby – only the roommate who she had known for less than a week.

This small experience illustrates to me how our healthcare stories, once only privy to close friends and family, are being shared via social media. The most intriguing part of the experience to me, as someone who researches social media, was the compounding effect this new landscape can have on how far the stories travel.

Social media flash point 

Notice that I didn’t directly find out about the situation through social media, but it was through social media that it reached a “flash point.” Borrowing a term from my firefighter dad, a flash point is the lowest temperate point where material can ignite. The flash point for this story was a posted Facebook photo that then ignited many word-of-mouth re-tellings.

This compounding effect can be wonderful (when the patient perceives your hospital as wonderful) or can be concerning (when the patient perceives your hospital as less-than wonderful).

At Hive Strategies, we advocate patient engagement, and promote the use of social media as a powerful tool to achieve this. But those of us involved in healthcare know that some of the most powerful “patient engagement tools” are the nurses who provide hands-on care.

Primary role of nurses in the patient experience

Think about your own friends and family members who return from a hospital stay, and usually they have stories about the care (good or bad) they received from nurses. They often know their nurses’ names and, if their visit was long enough, may even be able to tell you what shift their favorite nurses worked.

Recognizing the primary role of nurses in the patient experience is at the core of a digital storytelling project called nurstory from the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. The stories are currently being used in the doctoral program in nursing “to engage students and practicing health care professionals in dialogue on topics from ethics in health care, to the value of reflective practice, to what really constitutes care.”

Compounding value of digital stories

If we broaden our use of social media to include digital stories for staff education purposes, we can also track their “compounding value.”

For example, digital stories can provide nurses with insight to enhance patient experience. Then, when someone posts their “first IV” photo on Facebook, the stories that will flow from that post will have a higher likelihood of being positive…commenting on the terrific care the nurses provided.

Recognizing the broader context of social media, possible flash points and positioning your hospital to benefit from social media’s compounding value is one more step to developing a sound strategy.

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. Read about our services. Start a conversation. Email us or call us at 503-472-5512.

4 replies
  1. Jason Boies
    Jason Boies says:

    Great stuff here, Jean. If there is any group of professionals poised to take advantage of social media channels and share some truly remarkable stories, it’s healthcare pros.


    Jason Boies
    Radian6 Community Team


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