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HealthBeat

Hospitals increasing their presence on social media

Caesar hadn’t even started work at Concord Hospital before he had almost 60 people saying they liked him.

A life-size patient simulator, Caesar made his debut on Facebook on Aug. 6, in a post from Concord Hospital after a fundraising golf tournament.

Fifty-nine people “liked” the post – featuring a photo of Caesar being treated on a gurney – and four people posted comments under his photo. He’s a high-tech training tool, and just one example of the increasing presence of social media in the health care world.

Health care organizations are late adopters of social media; as recently as 2009, a Brooklyn-based physician told the magazine Health Affairs that the medical profession “is fundamentally flawed relative to how today’s world communicates and functions. . . . It needs to be Facebook-ed (and) wiki-ed.”

Two years later, providers have joined the hospitality, entertainment and retail industries in using Facebook, along with Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest and more to connect with their customers.

Concord Hospital has an account on YouTube as well as the one on Facebook.

The goal of their social media efforts is “to engage our community members in meaningful, two-way conversations and in doing so build brand awareness and customer loyalty,” said web manager Jenn Dearborn. Her position is fulltime, and since 2009, the web manager has been responsible for managing the hospital’s social media content and strategy and the hospital’s internal and external websites.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center has had a full-time social media coordinator for the past year. The current employee is leaving to write a novel, and the hospital recently advertised the job, looking for her replacement.

“It’s hard work. This person is supposed to gauge the landscape, taking in, monitoring, listening to the conversation and looking beyond what people are saying on our pages to what people are saying about other providers, and what are they saying in the wellness space about how they can stay out of the hospital,” said Roddy Young, Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s vice president for communications and marketing.

His department is committed to maintaining its presence on social media, because that’s where people are and it’s what they expect, he said.

“The way people consume music, media and movies, how they shop, how they access higher learning, it’s all changed in unbelievable ways . . . Someone who is 28 and lives life in the digital space, they want their health care experience to conform to the way they interact with other companies. We’re trying to do the right thing to serve the wants and needs of the consumer and the demands of the consumer to have it served up at home, in real time, on their time.”

For example, just last week, a patient wrote a Facebook post saying her dermatologist is “far from thorough,” and asked for a number to call for a second opinion. The page moderator posted back less than 20 minutes later with a phone number for the dermatology department in Lebanon.

Two minutes after that, the patient posted a note of thanks.

Social media interactions aren’t always so rosy.

In June, a Facebook user posted about his disappointment that most of the beverage options at the cafeteria are diet products, claiming the diet ingredient aspartame causes cancer and migraines. The next afternoon, the moderator posted a reply from a staff dietician. She noted that the cafeteria stocks naturally sugar-free options, and that the jury’s still out on aspartame.

The good news, socially-speaking? Two other posters chimed in and had a conversation about what does and doesn’t trigger their migraines.

No organization is going to hear only praise once it connects to the social-media hive, and there’s no point trying to sweep digital complaints under the rug, said Brian DeKoning, director of social strategy for Raka, a digital agency in Portsmouth.

“Really, any organization is going to hear complaints, whether they’re on social media or not,” DeKoning said. “Social media gives an organization an opportunity to respond quickly and be part of the conversation, rather than not know there are negative comments happening. For any organization, it’s a benefit to be part of the conversation sooner rather than later.”

For health care organizations in bustling urban hubs, the local population is already likely online and having this conversation.

For Dartmouth-Hitchcock, one of the biggest challenges is the patience it takes to build a following on networks like Twitter.

“We have a lot of savvy people here, but the aggregation, the numbers you’d get in a market like Boston, that just isn’t here,” said Young. “We post, but we haven’t hit resonance, but we’re not going to stop.”

That’s good, DeKoning said.

Twitter, with its 140-character limit on posts, is an especially good way for health care organizations to interact with people, he said.

“It breaks down the barriers their traditional communications have to adhere to. If you’ve ever read a press release from a hospital, it’s very formal and concerned with legality. Usually it’s been edited by five different people. Twitter breaks that down and allows people to one-to-one communications, if the organization allows it.

“And the audience is there. Or, the audience will be there sooner or later.”

(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or spalermo@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)

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