Using social media in the health services

Managers need to handle their own publicity and social media is the tool of choice for an increasing number of health services organisations, writes Conor Hannaway.

Elsewhere in this edition of Health Manager, the HMI’s usage of social media is discussed.  It comes across as a very natural activity for a management institute using social media to stay in contact with its members and stakeholders.  However, many people are not so sure about its role in the health services in Ireland.  It is seen as another thing to do in a busy schedule for a manager. There are also major concerns about confidentiality and legal issues. Above all else, managers are concerned in case the use of social media methodologies gets out of control.

Conor Hannaway
Conor Hannaway

On the other hand, an increasing number of health service organisations internationally are turning to social media to connect with their stakeholders including employees, patients, the general community and medical staff. People may ask: ‘Isn’t that what we have a website for?’   The answer is no, that is not the role of the website.  We will come back to this point.

On a number of occasions recently, Pat Harvey, Chair of the Croke Park Implementation Body for the Health Sector spoke about the need for managers to get the message across about what they are achieving.  He cited many of the great changes which have been effected.  However, there is a dearth of such stories in the news media. The reason is simple and relates to the supposed dictum of national media. Great news is usually a story which someone does not want told.  It follows that good news stories from the health services may not fit the needs of the national press.

Managers need to handle their own publicity and social media is the tool of choice for an increasing number of health services organisations.   The names of some of the most popular formats are well known and include Facebook, BeBo, Twitter and Flickr. There are many sites for business and professionals such as Linkedin.  There is a networking site (DXY) for health care personnel with two million users.

So how do these sites differ from having a website?  There are three main ways in which these sites differ. Firstly, the user can immediately input the content at any time or place.  They are immediately responsive to changing circumstances.  Let your community know that the opening times for a clinic have changed or that a new procedure has been introduced.  Secondly, you can push the data rather than waiting on people to visit your site. The third, and maybe the most important reason for investing in your social networking opportunities is the ability for the members of the community which you have established to interact with you and your organisation.

All of the above is not saying that the process is easy.  Time must be invested but it enables you to better manage your profile and communications within the various communities to which you belong.

If you can manage the workload involved, how do you manage the potential risks of your new media strategy?  There are twelve words of advice from M.D., Medical Director for the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media:

Don’t Lie, Don’t Pry

Don’t Cheat, Can’t Delete

Don’t Steal, Don’t Reveal

The words are somewhat self explanatory but we will look at them in more detail in a later article which will show how to get started and what you have to do to make your social media strategy a success.

Conor Hannaway
Director
shrc limited