Saturday, March 29, 2014

Can social media drive healthcare consumers to the hospital?

You bet it can and here’s why from this most interesting social media infographic: 41 percent of patients say social media affects hospital choice courtesy of healthcarecommunications.com.   This is really astounding when you consider the financial implications. Even better in the report was that 60 percent of doctors saying social media improves the quality of care. And one in two adults use their smartphone to look up health information as well.

When this information is combined with the Mayo Clinic survey  Health Care Social Media List,” Social Media Health Network, with so few hospitals participating in some aspect of social media, the discussion is no longer about nice to do, but don’t have the time or lacking the willingness to  tackle the internal political issues, to a business strategy  that can drive the brand, awareness, perception, experience and ultimately revenue.

So who does the healthcare consumer trust in social media driven health information and content?  Doctors are first and that is no surprise at 60 percent. Nurses are in second place at 56 percent. Hospitals come in virtually tied with nurses at 55 percent. 

Only 46 percent of people trust health information from patients they know.  And if they don’t know you as a patient, that trust drops like a rock to 25 percent. Most interesting is that the trust factor for the top three is really only a few percentage points difference.

The point of all this is really to help marketing leadership in hospitals and health systems; have a rational fact-based discussion in their organizations on the impact of social media on the business strategy. This does affect the overall marketing strategy and positioning of the organization.

Marketing in hospitals and health systems isn’t about making things look pretty anymore; it’s about driving revenue, managing demand appropriately and improving the healthcare consumer and patient experience.  And that is not easy by any means.

Social media is more than an app for the Iphone or Android operating system that tells you ER wait times.  Social media is a platform of engagement and innovation. 

It’s not about posting pictures of new buildings or pieces of technologically advanced diagnostic equipment, those can go on Pinterest. It’s about how you develop content in the right context that is engaging, informative, educational, experience enhancing and drives business.  Social media gives a healthcare organization the ability to deliver content directly to the healthcare consumer or patient to meet all those goals. 

The time for waiting is over. The times to act is now, and drive a comprehensive social media strategy into the fabric of the hospital or health system.  The healthcare consumer is out here looking and making healthcare choices, and they can’t choose the hospital or health system that’s not out there in social media.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

To blog or not to blog the hospital? That is today’s social media question.

One of the easiest ways for hospital and health system to take advantage of social media is blogging. Thousands of stories of quality care. There are the stories of dedicated and highly educated and trained professional employees.  There are physicians on the medical staff whose collective knowledge and practice of medicine tallies in the hundreds of years, with stories of quality, care and compassion to tell.  Volunteers coming in daily who have heartwarming stories of engagement and loyalty.  Consider the story lines of patients who would freely and willingly tell their stories of successful high quality care, engagement and treatment at the hospital or within the health system.

No additional resources needed for this effort. The communications talent in your marketing department is already in the building, ready to provide compelling content and context surrounding the hospital or health system.

Best of all you control the message.  The hospital or health system can link to the web site. Post to Facebook. Broadcast on twitter. Engage potential employees and followers on the hospital page on LinkedIn. And use the blog as a mechanism for establishing a strong media relations program to develop a press following.

And only 209 hospitals nationwide blog per the Mayo Clinic “Health Care Social Media List”?

I really don’t understand why, and please don’t site HIPAA.  There is nothing in blogging that requires the release of or identification of patient information. That is nothing but a smoke screen used to not engage in social media.

Let me pose to you this question.  How many times has the hospital or health system marketing staff, completed a Google search to see who is blogging and writing about the hospital or health system? Just because an organizations doesn't engage in an aspect of social media, doesn't mean that it’s not happening in the broader community.  Remember that the healthcare consumer is the new paparazzi.

But beyond that little exercise, blogging should be part of the structure of a strategic and fully integrated organizational marketing plan. It’s a method for communicating. It’s a method for building brand.  It’s a method of engaging not only the patient, but the newly minted health insured and the burgeoning healthcare consumer.  They are all out there searching for information, so why not provide them with the meaningful content?

Now that being said, this isn’t about fluff. Oh look at the new building. See our state-of-the-art cardiac cath lab.  Or the ever popular we have wireless internet and HD TVs!  This is about providing meaningful engagement content and using the blog inventively.

Since so few hospitals and heath systems blog, this is really a blue ocean strategy for reaching out and engaging. If a hospital or health system is the first in a market to blog, then the tone, tenor and terms of communication are established via content that has contextual clarity.   And that ladies and gentleman, makes everyone else in the market a me too.

 To blog or not to blog the hospital?  I think the question has been answered.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

How can hospitals innovate in the use of social media?

In thinking about social media use by hospitals, I was struck by the innovative actions of Rhode Island Hospital that took Google Glass which was deployed to consumers, and creatively applied the emerging technology to healthcare. Physicians at the hospital use Google Glass with it being the first in the nation application to study its use in real-time bed-side consults.   This story was developed by the newspaper Providence Journal.  They also used YouTube to tell the story. And that is the genesis of today’s topic.

As we have been discussing, and my thanks to all those who have taken the time to share their thoughts in the social media discussion on various LinkedIn groups, social media is little used, but slowly growing in hospitals for patient or healthcare consumer engagement.  For example, Via Christi  is using social media and finding success.

So moving beyond Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and blogs which I would consider to be the basic building blocks and starting points for any social media initiative, how can hospitals and health systems use lessons in social media from other industries to engage the healthcare consumer and patient?

Consider the use of Foursquare for example. It’s not just a location service that connects to a person’s Facebook and twitter account. It’s a useful tool for business to drive customers and engage the customer.

The other day I was with the family eating at Chili’s Bar and Grill and used Foursquare to check-in. No sooner had I done that, I received a message from Chili’s thank me for dining there and provided us with a free appetizer as thanks.  Then a short while late I received another text message from Chili's asking what they could do for me that day?

What does this have to do with healthcare and healthcare consumer engagement?  A lot.

Whether the hospital or health system or any healthcare provider realizes it or not, they are on Foursquare.  The consumer can add any business they want with a review as well.  Maybe the healthcare consumer statement will be good. Maybe it will be not so faltering. But it will be out there every time some checks in at the healthcare location with Foursquare.  

Beyond that little ditty, here is the Foursquare application to healthcare.  

What if when someone checked into one of the hospital or health system network locations, they received a welcome message?

What if the hospital or health system, was following patients and healthcare consumers on Foursquare and when they checked into a restaurant, sent a wellness message with tips or ideas on ordering from a menu for healthy eating? That is technology driven by the way and someone in the marketing department doesn't have to manually send a message. It’s really 24/7 engagement.

Or when a person checking in fitness clubs a message that encourages the person to continue their efforts at a healthy lifestyle through exercise?

What if the hospital or health system was actively managing its presence on Foursquare and was using that opportunity as a marketing channel for engagement in a host of other areas?

These are just a couple of small ideas on using one aspect of social media. But if the hospital or health system is not engaged and innovatively using social media, you can bet the healthcare consumer is wondering why there is so much silence.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Where should a hospital start the social media effort?

I say start from the easiest and move progressively forward into more sophisticated social media platforms.  It would be easy to bite off more than one can chew in social media. After all, with the availability of more than you can imagine social media outlets, an organization could pick too many the first time out and fail at all of them.

The most important point, and I really cannot emphasis this enough, is that social media is not a mechanism for being a billboard for hospital programs and services. Social media is a platform and medium to engage the healthcare consumer in order to create a meaningful engagement dialogue. A dialogue that is transparent, meets the healthcare or patients needs, provides meaningful information and enhances the experience with the hospital or health system.

But let’s start about what not to do. That can actually be more important than doing.

Sometimes a story is the best way to learn.   There was a hospital that will remain nameless, that I was following on Facebook. It wasn’t the most engaging or enjoyable experience.  The hospital postings were all about them. Nothing about the value brought or even the reason why a healthcare consumer or patient for that matter would actively engage with the hospital. 

The crowning moment came one day when the hospital marketing department posted a picture of the marketing staff, standing behind a table full of marketing communications award trophies for various campaigns and activities. In the end all it did was loudly proclaim as well as the content provided, look at us. It’s all about us.

Really? And the point of that Facebook post was? I hate to tell you this but the healthcare consumer doesn't care.  

So please, when you start the social media program to engage the healthcare consumer, try to control the organizational impulses of leadership who have little understanding of social media  and marketing.  Things like this only devalue the brand and make an organization look foolish.

Now it’s time for what to do.

These five steps taken sequentially can get the hospital started in social media. As experience and expertise builds you can expand.

  1.       Understand organizationally that social media is alive. It is not static and unchanging. Social media platforms change and evolve on a constant basis. This means the organization has to monitor to see what people and competitors are talking about and sharing. Build internal support and educate the entire healthcare organization.
  2.      Do the market research. If you don’t know what social media platforms the healthcare consumer and patients are engaging in, then how can you decide what social media platforms to choose? Oh, and because one may engage in social media, that is a meaningless experience to use as a basis for program decision making. Know the audience. Know the markets. Know what information the healthcare consumer is searching out. Know what social media platforms they use to gather information and engage. Secondary research may give one clues in how to proceed with primary market research in the hospital service area, but these are guides only. 
  3.      Build a social media plan that is integrated into the overall marketing plan and strategy of the hospital or health system. Include in your plan, goals and objectives, key messages, engagement strategies. How it will be measured and evaluated and who is responsible for executing the plan. What gets measured gets done. Obtain executive by-in. If leadership does not support the plan or is not engaged in the effort, stop now and go find something else to do.
  4.            Don’t boil the ocean. An organization has to build capacity, experience and expertise in social media.  Start with one platform. Be the best you can be on that social media platform and then expand and add capacity. Learn what the healthcare consumer likes and doesn't like. Test messages. Test engagement strategies.  Fail fast and become the learning organization and not repeating the same mistakes.
  5.           Engage and build a meaningful relationship with the healthcare consumer. Stay away from meaningless fluff and anything that looks like it’s all about the organization. And listen. Listen very carefully to what is being said in social media and responds accordingly.

Okay, time to get started. The market is changing and the hospital is being left behind.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Is social media in hospitals easy?

Last week I wrote about what don’t hospitals  get  about social media. This week’s topic, is social media in a hospital or health system easy,  is about some ideas to re-energize and move forward with a social media program.

In hospitals and health systems, it really comes down to three questions to be answered. First, is there an organizational understanding  standing of the power of social media to engage the healthcare consumer and patients and its place in the annual marketing plan? Secondly, do you have the marketing  talent  to construct, execute  and evaluate the effort? Finally, can marketing resources - capital and human, be allocated to the social media program?

I am not going to debate whether or not a hospital or health system should or should not have a social media program.  That train left the station a long time ago and its catch up time for healthcare organizations.  But, if you can’t answer all three question positively, then you have some basic ground work to do before you move forward.

In the new world of healthcare where price, quality and a newly insured healthcare consumer paying more out-of-pocket costs for healthcare, social media represents an opportunity that can be used advantageously  to meet healthcare consumer’s and patient’s for that matter, demands for better direct engagement and experience.

Social media is an opportunity for establishing a one-on-one relationship with the patient, aka the healthcare consumer, directed by the healthcare organization that breaks from the pack, by creating an  experience that is memorable and can exceed an individual or families experience and expectations.

When you have constrained marketing resources, and you have to have a continuous presence in the market place to shift healthcare consumer’s attitudes, preferences and choices, a social media strategy that is fully integrated into the marketing plan and the healthcare organizations can achieve that end for you.

Follow these steps and you're on your way to developing and implementing  a strategically-focused, comprehensive and fully integrated, organizationally transparent social media strategy:

1. Strategy first, tactics second. Any old road will get you to where you want to go without a clear identifiable strategy. This is no different than a traditional marketing approach. Integrate the tools and techniques of social media  into your overall marketing efforts.

2.  Be clear about  your messages and what value using these tools will bring to your healthcare consumers.  The purpose is to engage in a dialogue not shout at them.  You have to understand what type of information and content your consumers want.  Without that knowledge you can say whatever you want, but chances are no one will be reading, responding or listening.

3. Take an integrated approach.  What goes on your web site is also on facebook and used in twitter to drive traffic to you.  Twitter is a great way to send out links for health related articles or news and information.   Have a video? Post it on YouTube. Writing a healthcare blog? You should be if you're not. Make sure twitter, facebook, YouTube, flicker etc follow you buttons are on your site. Running  Back-to- School, Sports or Camp physicals? Put it on twitter, facebook and even those coupon sites like Groupon. Holding a health and wellness event, ditto.

4. Use QR codes with your web site or specific page links or phone number embedded  in them to drive them to your site, call center or service line. Through the use of QR codes you can make your print and traditional activities social in nature.

5. Remember at all times your are building brand, perception and experience. This just isn't nice to have, people will remember what you say and do.  Be right the first time.

6.  Devote resources, budget, time and personnel for the task.  Your challenge is to keep in front of your audience with relevant information, all the time.  Attention spans are short.  If someone sees no changes on a pretty regular basis in your content or information, they will fall away.

7. Measure everything.  Evaluate.  Adjust based on your findings.

8. Be creative, don't limit yourself to the tried and true or what a competitor is doing. Be an innovator.

9. Use social media with your physicians and employees to communicate, build organizational support and loyalty.

10. Build excitement around what you are doing.

The budding  healthcare consumer and patient of today is social media savvy and networked to the nth degree.  They expect the same of you.