Hospitals have a unique opportunity when it comes to social media marketing – they have so many inspiring stories to tell, but they must also make sure they receive the necessary patient approval.
John Ambrose, social media director for Mount Sinai Health System in New York who also happens to be a lawyer, explained that concerns over legal risks should not stop hospitals from being active on social media.
Hospitals are required to maintain the privacy of their patients as required by the privacy rule in HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which was passed by Congress in the 1990s.
“First and foremost, these concerns should not completely deter hospitals from developing a social media presence. Throughout the United States, millions of patients regularly use social media to find health information and share their stories and opinions. We have the opportunity to provide them with the content they’re looking for, and in some cases, improve their health and even save lives. Social media also allows us to directly engage with these patients and provide them with a vehicle to voice their praises and concerns,” said Ambrose, who elaborated that it’s a good idea to be prepared, check facts, work closely with the legal team, and constantly monitor hospital social media platforms.
In fact, Mount Sinai Health System (previously The Mount Sinai Medical Center), which first launched on Facebook and has four employees dedicated to social media, is extremely active on multiple social media platforms.
For example, Mount Sinai promoted on Facebook that it was conducting a free skin cancer screening, and the message reached thousands of people.
“The result: we had lines out the door at our Department of Dermatology, but more importantly, we provided essential services to many that would not normally be able to afford them, and even detected potential life-threatening melanomas in some of these individuals,” explained Ambrose.
It also uses social media to:
• Tell patients’ inspiring stories;
• Share information about physicians;
• Provide health tips; and
• Increase awareness around specific health issues such as skin cancer, prostate cancer, diabetes, children’s health, and ovarian cancer.
Mount Sinai uses many visuals, such as infographics and videos, to get information across on social media channels.
Ambrose said that a Facebook campaign in 2012 saw very high levels of engagement and reach. “Cancer-Proof Your Home,” which provided graphics focusing on how to lower chemical and carcinogen exposure in homes, was shared more than 1,200 times and reached upwards of 260,000 people.
“This was one of our most successful posts because people are becoming increasingly aware of the dangers of chemicals, and this graphic provided simple tips that practically anyone can live by,” he said, adding that Mount Sinai also shares content from patients, students, researchers, and employees, on social media.
For example, Ron Gardner, who received deep brain stimulation surgery to treat Parkinson’s Disease, often posts updates on social media, and Mount Sinai shares and responds to those updates through its social media channels weekly.
Mount Sinai has also participated in more than 30 Twitter chats.
In addition, the health system uses social media tools to listen to what staff, students, visitors, family members, and patients are saying about Mount Sinai, and it immediately responds to any negative comments.
It also actively measures return on investment (ROI). On a monthly basis, the marketing team looks at its “subscriber base, reach, audience engagement, interactions with influential users and organizations, and effectiveness of campaigns and individual posts on all of our social media channels.” They use Hootsuite, Google Analytics, Facebook Insights and Twitalyzer to track and measure ROI.
According to Ambrose, social media is critical during crises, such as Hurricane Sandy, for communication purposes. Mount Sinai created a storm hub online that included health and safety tips, live updates, emergency contact information, and other resources on 12 social media channels.
“During the storm, we continued to update the public and staff on the storm’s progress, any closures and mass transit issues, and provided relevant tips based on the actual health emergencies caused by the storm. After the storm, we promoted inspirational patient stories and feats of heroism, commended our volunteers, physicians, students, nurses and staff for their tremendous efforts, and provided important lessons for future health emergencies,” he explained.
Besides Facebook, the Mount Sinai Health System is also on Twitter, YouTube, Google+, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, Vine, Flickr, Foursquare and WordPress (three blogs), and it has more than 50 social media handles across all of its departments and facilities.