Uncertain News and Your Hospital’s Social Media Responsibility

flickr: Enokson

Here’s social media strategy that, at first glance, may appear to be contradictory or, at the very least, not a good use of hospital resources.

I suggest that as the availability of online healthcare news becomes more prevalent and the number of patients searching the Internet seeking healthcare news increases, hospitals should become MORE involved in aggregating and creating healthcare news outlets for their patients.

For example, I am suggesting that a Cancer Center aggregate and create a newsfeed, blog, Facebook page, Twitter feed or other news distribution mechanism.

Why the extra step when patients can simply Google “cancer news” and have current information at their fingertips? In a word, uncertainty.

Uncertainty creates problems for chronically ill patients

As humans, we don’t like uncertainty. In fact, uncertainty is often what motivates us to seek more information (see: uncertainty reduction theory). Uncertainty is a particular problem with patients who are chronically ill and their family members.

According to a recent article by Ryan J. Hurley, Kami A. Kosenko & Dale Brashers, “Research indicates that uncertainty plays an important role in all stages of the cancer continuum, from prevention to diagnosis and treatment to survival or end-of-life care.”

The results of their study published in the article Uncertain Terms: Message Features of Online Cancer News found that 65% of Internet-based cancer news contains message features linked to the production of uncertainty. In other words, patients would likely develop greater uncertainty after reading them.

What kind of information leads to uncertainty?

The characteristics of the articles that foster uncertainty include information that is too complex, ambiguous or conflicting. In addition, too much information or too little information can also foster uncertainty.

According to the study, “Individuals are increasingly reliant on the Internet for health information…. What is missing from the discussion of online health information is attention to content and to the potential for online health resources to cause or exacerbate uncertainty in information seekers.” (If uncertainty in patients is an area of interest to you, I encourage you to read M.H. Mishel’s 1999 article, Uncertainty in Chronic Illness in the Annual Review of Nursing Research.)

Use social media to lead patients to reliable information

From a social media standpoint, this study lifts up an opportunity for hospitals. Instead of having patients be frustrated and overwhelmed after seeking information on the Internet, we can use social media to establish a guided pathway for patients and their families – a path that contains information that is vetted to assure reliability and clarity.

We can use our physician experts to explain complex information in the language of our patients and offer interactive Q & A sessions, interviews or webinars that can be recorded and accessed through the hospital’s website or Facebook page.

We can attempt to counteract the frustration of uncertainty by pointing information seekers to a gateway of helpful information and toward opportunities for interaction (chat rooms, webinars, Twitter chats or Facebook pages) – methods to help alleviate uncertainty.

Cancer is just one chronic illness that poses the challenge of uncertainty, but there are many, many others. Consider how your hospital’s social media strategies could provide opportunities to help patients and their families achieve greater understanding and acceptance and diminish the fear and frustration of uncertainty.

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.

2 replies
  1. Jean Kelso Sandlin
    Jean Kelso Sandlin says:

    Jason: Thanks for the comments. I agree – listening, monitoring and engaging via multiple platforms would be the ideal. It’s challenging for hospitals when resource allocation often does not reflect the growing communication needs in a rapidly changing healthcare landscape.

  2. Jason Boies
    Jason Boies says:

    Discussions surrounding health and illness will take place on social channels regardless of whether your hospital has a presence on those platforms or not. As such, it is important for healthcare pros to have a solid understanding of social platforms such as Twitter. Important points here, Jean.

    As always, Cheers.

    Jason Boies – Radian6 Community Team


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