Distraught patients are getting more sophisticated in their use of social media

Posted on March 14, 2012 1:42 pm by | Healthcare | Social Media

In the lead-up to the first of a series of workshops on digital and social media for healthcare organizations I’m leading with Chris Boyer, I’m cranking out several healthcare focused posts. The workshop, Health Care Communicators Boot Camp, starts out in Philadelphia on March 26. Get details and register here.

Brick WallsThe healthcare industry’s reticence to join the social media fray is increasingly problematic as the public takes to social media to address healthcare issues.

Hospitals mainly worried about compliance issues are missing opportunities to address patients and their families who have turned to social channels to seek resolution to problems or, sometimes, just to vent.

The number of complaints about hospitals posted to Yelp is rising based on my completely unscientific review of the site, yet there are precious few hospital representatives stepping in to answer these complaints. One of the hospitals whose Yelp pages I check regularly (they’re a client, after all) begins, “Overall review of this place.” Even though it’s a generally positive review, the hospital’s communication manager responds, “I want to thank you for your feedback. I will be sure to share it with our staff.” Which she will, since she knows the feedback needs to be cycled back into the hospital’s business processes.

With reviews that are critical of the hospital, the communications manager always invites the reviewer to contact her. Some do, often leading to positive resolutions. Others don’t, but at least anyone checking the reviews can see that the hospital makes a genuine effort to make sure the patient winds up satisfied with his or her experience.

But reviews on sites like Yelp are old school. As social media becomes more common a tool for the average consumer, patients are getting more sophisticated in how they use it. A college student in Washington D.C. us using a petition on Change.org to try to pressure Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachesetts to reverse its denial of rehabilitation coverage for his father. A similar petition was launched after a Children’s hospital of Philadelphia denied a transplant to a child because (according to a blog post from the child’s mother) the girl is developmentally disabled.

The pressure brought to bear on Children’s Hospital has led the organization to reconsider the kidney transplant.

While Children’s Hospital and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts may both have made their decisions based on existing standards and practices, the individuals involved react to the denials emotionally. Once, there was little they could do about it other than complain to friends and family. Now they can draw considerable awareness to the issue. Those who sign the petitions are also reacting emotionally, feeling anger or outrage.

By engaging effectively and authentically in social channels, hospitals and other healthcare organizations can be part of the human discussion, blunting the perception that they are no more than soulless, profit-focused businesses. You can play a part in how the community perceives you or you can let distraught patients paint that picture for you.

If you work in a healthcare facility, do you routinely check your Yelp listing, and if so, how do you respond to criticism?



  • 1.This is a great post. Health care executives are more clueless than I expected when it comes to social media. Many, many do not have LinkedIn profiles and just shrug their soldiers or go silent when I bring it up.

    Ellen Montague | March 2012

  • 2.Frankly the Health insurance cartel deserves everything they get and more. Everybody has either a horror story of their own or from their circle about their treatment at the hands of these gangsters.

    They make profit from denying treatment to people. That is their revenue model, which pretty much fits my definition of wicked.

    I have a special needs son so could give you chapter and verse on the lengths these weasles will go to deny a four year old boy treatment. They are the personification of enemies of the people and frankly, their reluctance to take to Social Media is the least of their issues.

    Guy Bailey | March 2012 | Atlanta, GA

  • 3.When I had my hip replaced five years ago, I asked to take my Blackberry into the OR and they let me. I blogged constantly from the moment I check into the hospital until the time I left, because I was terrified I'd be a victim of some medical error and I wanted a written record, even if it was only my own. It scared the pants off the hospital staff, and on the day after my surgery I received a visit from a high level person asking me if I had been treated well, and if my blog could be used as a teaching tool. I was treated like royalty once they knew I was blogging.

    And this was before Twitter, and before FB was so big. The health care connected customer is a real danger to entrenched practices.

    Francine Hardaway | March 2012 | United States

  • 4.Negative or positive social media coverage can make or break any brand or company, hospitals included. I feel that the healthcare industry could truly benefit from patients feedback through platforms like Twitter and Facebook. Patients are obviously already doing so; therefore, it is imperative for PR professionals working for hospitals and clinics to take note of what is being said about them. They then can effectively address complaints and continue doing the things that satisfy their patients. Its always about listening to the consumer, or in this case the patient, and then improving.

    Kera Cottingham, Platform Magazine Editor/Writer | March 2012 | Tuscaloosa, Ala.

  • 5.I'm continually amazed at how big organizations are still taking a wait and see attitude towards social media, rather than a get out in front of it approach. There are ways (such as crowdsourcing) to proactively engage these people into a constructive dialog that can help improve things and turn negatives into positives. Twitter and Facebook provide feedback mechanisms, but most of the comments will be negative. There are better ways to provide a process to allow people to contribute, not just complain.

    Randy Corke | March 2012 | Boston, MA

  • 6.Amazing post. By hospitals merely engaging patients on twitter or facebook, it shows that hospitals don't just concentrate on making huge profits but are keen to note the challenges faced by patients. This is an indication that they put the interest of patients first at hand.

    Erick Kinuthia
    Team MDwebpro

    Erick Kinuthia | March 2012

  • 7.Amazing post. By hospitals merely engaging patients on twitter or facebook, it shows that hospitals don't just concentrate on making huge profits but are keen to note the challenges faced by patients. This is an indication that they put the interest of patients first at hand.

    Erick Kinuthia
    Team MDwebpro

    Erick Kinuthia | March 2012

  • 8.hee hee, have you ever been in an American hospital Erick?

    Guy Bailey | March 2012 | Atlanta, GA

  • 9.Great blogpost, Shel. E-patients can definitely put the squeeze on hospitals and physicians through social media. Hospitals who respond to Yelp and other reviews openly go a long way to building better relationships. As we enter the brave new world of healthcare reform and accountable care organizations, coordinated care is going to be key, not just among care providers but with patients as well. It's a new era!

    Dan Hinmon | March 2012 | Oregon

  • 10.Not really Bailey, all am trying to say is that hospital should show some concern by engaging patients online.

    Erick Kinuthia | March 2012 |

  • 11.No worries Erick - just for American hospitals anyway, patient engagement and concern is a long way below getting their $$$.

    Oh and it's Guy - we're all friends here.

    Unless it was a rebuke in which case it's Mr Bailey to you.


    Guy Bailey | March 2012 | Atlanta, GA

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