Use Social Media to Strengthen Hospital Volunteer Programs and Patient Relations

Last week I took a red-eye flight from the West Coast to the Midwest because my dad had a health emergency. When I finally got to the hospital, I was tired and worried. I was greeted by complimentary valet parking (which was a great help because my elderly mom, who uses a wheel chair, was with me) and smiling volunteers.

I was in a hurry. My dad’s surgery was in less than ½ hour and I was rushing to see him before he went in. My dad was a high-risk patient, and there was real concern that he may not survive the surgery. Like many others, the hospital had undergone many additions over the years, and the hallways were maze-like.

A smiling volunteer helped me assist my mom from the car to a wheelchair and then guided us through the maze of hallways to the surgical floor. We arrived in time to see my dad, and even show him a few videos on my phone that his grandchildren had sent to boost his spirits. The short visit put him in a more positive frame of mind and made my mom and me feel more at peace with the situation.

A timely volunteer made the difference

If we had been just 10 minutes later, we would have missed him. Thanks to the volunteer’s guidance, we made it in time.

I know my experience isn’t unique. Hospital volunteers foster positive patient relations and do wonders to increase patient and family satisfaction. In this environment of budget cuts, the importance of volunteers is even more evident.

A new book, The Volunteer Management Handbook: Leadership Strategies for Success, edited by Tracy D. Connors and released last month, contains a wealth of information. Of particular interest is an entire chapter, “Social Media and Volunteer Programs,” written by Nancy Macduff. There’s a free summary of the chapter available as a pdf on the publisher’s site.

Using social media in volunteer relations

In the chapter, Macduff shares statistics from studies by the Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN) that help set the stage for using social media in volunteer relations.

Of the sectors where nonprofit organizations operate,14.5% are in health care. Macduff wrote, “It is clear that nonprofits and likely their volunteer programs see marketing and fundraising as appropriate uses of social media, but there seems to be timidity about crossing into other areas of usage such as blogs for volunteers to share experiences, Wikis to manage projects or meetings, or a Facebook page only for volunteers.”

Two reasons why nonprofits do not use social networking sites

Macduff advocates the use of social media to strengthen volunteer programs, and sites NTEN’s 2010 study that reported the reasons nonprofits do not use social networking sites: 47% say ‘‘lack of expertise,’’ and 32% say ‘‘insufficient budget.’’

The last finding, “insufficient budget,” is exactly the reason using social media to strengthen hospital volunteer programs makes so much sense. Social media programs, once implemented, can be run with extreme cost efficiency.

When implementing social media training in other areas of the hospital, include volunteer relations and volunteers themselves. Considering the benefits of increased volunteerism and enhanced patient relations, social media programs directed at volunteers have the potential to have high impact returns.

How we help

Hive Strategies helps health systems create HIPAA-compliant online communities for better health, lower costs and greater loyalty.

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