Social Media for Healthcare Organizations: Concerns and Guidelines

Social Media for Healthcare Organizations: Concerns and Guidelines

By Andrew OsegiJan 27 /2015

social media healthcare

The underlying goal of social media marketing is to convey transparency, ignite conversation and to keep your audience informed; but, when we apply these practices to the healthcare sector, it can get a little sticky.

Why? Because healthcare providers, health insurers, manufacturers and pharmaceuticals must adhere to a menagerie of state and federal policies, most notably HIPPA policy and FDA guidelines, when promoting their product or service.

social media healthcare gif

This means the healthcare sector is limited to what they can publish and interact with online without facing reprimandation. For instance, what might be considered premium user-generated content for a business (patient testimonial, product reviews or a tagged selfie from Instagram) should be approached with extreme caution by a healthcare organization (unless it has explicit permission from said user/person).

Yet social is proving to be a worldwide phenomenon changing the way we communicate and consume information, and healthcare is no exception. Consider these data points from a study conducted by PwC:

  • Approximately one-third of consumers are using today’s social space as a “natural habitat” for health discussions
  • 42% of consumers have used social media to access health-related consumer reviews (e.g. of treatments or physicians)
  • More than 80% of individuals ages 18–24 would be likely to share health information through social media, while nearly 90% of individuals would engage in health activities or trust information found via social media; when it comes to ages 45-65, less than half (45%) would be willing to share their information on social
  • Data generated from social (lifestyle and behavior) helps to complete the patient profile
  • Social media expands the role of health organizations with their customers

Hence the problem reveals itself: In our connected age of information, where social is the go-to medium to share ideas, feelings and opinions, how can hospitals, hospital employees and drug manufacturers reap the rewards of social media marketing, yet still remain within the legal guidelines meant to protect the patients they serve? I hope to shed some light on theses hurdles (and their solutions) in the blog below.

hospital healthcare pill days of the week

What are the concerns? How can they be resolved?

Two concerns present themselves in this modern-day conundrum. The first being healthcare employees and their discretion (or lack there of) when personally using social media. This is a BIG issue for most providers, for when an employee decides to disclose sensitive information online, even when he or she believes their opinion is confidential, they endanger not only their own career, but also the entire organization they represent. HIPPA protects against the obvious: names, addresses, emails and policy numbers are all red flags. However, even the slightest contextual or circumstantial evidence that may lead to the identification of a patient can be considered a violation of privacy.

This story from October 2014 is an example of how a healthcare employee can misuse social media to the detriment of every party involved.

Solution: The most popular preventative measure for healthcare organizations is to extend and reevaluate compliance policies so they address social media usage on every level. Insuring all employees are well aware of the consequences is the first step in mitigating risk. Unfortunately, it seems ironic since outside the healthcare industry, employee advocacy on social networks is a marketing strategy encouraged by most businesses.

mitigating risk gif healthcare

A second concern in social media healthcare marketing follows: In June of 2014, the FDA released two “draft guidances” outlining 1) How to address promotional content within a limited character space (like that of Twitter and Google/LinkedIn advertising), and 2) How to address misinformation from third-party sources online.

Take aways:

  • In order for a medical firm to promote a drug or product in a limited-space-platform, such as Twitter or Google Ads, they must comply with FDA regulation and present both benefit and risk equally (just like in those annoying antidepressant commercials on television). If that proves to be to difficult, said firm must provide a link to where more information regarding benefit and risk (in equal, non discriminatory exposure) can be found.
  • If a third-party entity (any source of User-Generated Content) is sharing misinformation of a FDA approved product, then the provider or manufacturer should do everything in its power to correct the information as it may constitute a threat to the public health: Contact the writer, web admin, forum admin or profile holder.

Trust and Social Sharing in Healthcare

Again, trust and transparency is at the very core of every authentic action taken on social, and nowhere is this more vital than in healthcare. Revisiting the study from PwC, respondents were more likely to trust healthcare providers (doctors and hospitals) over healthcare companies. Why? Simple: Human relationships.

healthcare trust

Amongst all the regulation and policy, genuine person-to-person interaction is the most trusted form social communication. If doctors, marketers and healthcare executives can find a balance between patient privacy and effective social media management, our healthcare services stand to be enriched for the better.

What are your concerns regarding healthcare social media? Let us know in the comment section below. Looking to get started with digital marketing? Download our free guide for medical manufacturers here

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The Author

Andrew Osegi

Andrew Osegi's passion is in content publishing, social media management and community engagement. He lives in the Live Music Capitol of the World, Austin, TX. He likes breakfast tacos, barbecue and researching the ever-changing trends between technology and culture.