Influence through Social Media: Trust, Share, Engage

<<Back to Main Meeting Page

Break on through to the other side - with social media
When is it okay to spend an entire meeting session on Twitter? When the session is all about social media, of course. Participants at the Influence through Social Media session tweeted rapidly and followed each other instantly, demonstrating in a microcosm the power of social media.
Panelist Ed Bennett, director of web and communications technology at the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS), provided the hospital perspective. “Hospitals are traditionally late adopters in terms of communications,” he said. Most have a token presence on the web through Facebook, but a majority still block access for employees. Further, they see Facebook more as a way to push out information marketing and not as a method for connecting with patients and their families and getting them involved. So Bennett built a tool so the administrators at UMMS could see what their peers were doing elsewhere. This encouraged UMMS to get started with social media, and the system has experienced no problems in three years of access.
Now the system also uses closed Facebook groups as support for patients with certain conditions. Through these groups, the hospitals can answer questions that apply only to people with these conditions. Patients have embraced the groups because, in the words of one patient, “Only we know what we are going through.”
When necessary, patients react to a lack of a medical presence online by forming their own virtual communities. When three-time cancer survivor Alicia Staley found her hospital-based support group was no longer able to meet her needs, she formed her own weekly Twitter chat that now typically has more than 1,000 participants and has recently filed for 501(c)3 status. #BCSM chats support breast cancer patients as well as long-term survivors. “Eighty-five percent of patients agree that social media plays some role in health care decisions,” said Staley. “All you need is a hashtag and a dream.” 
Patient communities are great tools, she said, because the information is current and vetted. But she warned providers not to use social media to sell something. “The patient community will shut you down,” she said.
The Mayo Clinic’s goal, explained panelist Susana Shephard, is always to put their patients first by educating, engaging, empowering, and even entertaining them. Mayo believes individuals have the right and responsibility to advocate for their own health, so it embraces various platforms of social media to inform patients and help them connect. Shephard told the story of one patient whose daughter found a kidney donor for her on Twitter. Mayo then shared the story, receiving extensive media pickup, including on NBC’s Today. Another patient with a rare disease found an online support group for that disease and convinced a doctor at Mayo to perform a study.
Entertainment also can be effective, Shephard said, by capturing imaginations and interest. Videos, for example, can bring in patients who would not have come in for treatment or known about the organization otherwise.
Session moderator and prolific blogger and user of social media Dr. Mike Sevilla ( echoed Shephard’s emphasis on social media as a tool for educating patients. He was drawn into it, he said, by the storytelling—so he uses it to tell his own story, encouraging other family physicians to participate in social media so they can control their own message. “If you don’t tell your own story, someone else will,” he said. For example, family physicians have let others control the message, and doing so has worked against them.
Dr. Sevilla has a blog, podcasts, a Twitter feed, and a Facebook page; and while he doesn’t think every doctor or health care organization needs to be that diversified, he emphasized that they have to be aware they’re out there and know what they’re saying about you.