Academic journal article Frontiers of Health Services Management

Conversations with the Community: The Methodist Hospital System's Experience with Social Media

Academic journal article Frontiers of Health Services Management

Conversations with the Community: The Methodist Hospital System's Experience with Social Media

Article excerpt

SUMMARY *

The Methodist Hospital System has maintained a social media presence on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube since 2009. After initial unofficial excursions into the world of social media, we discovered that social media can be a useful tool to extend a conversation with our patients and the community at large and share our hospital's culture with a larger base of like-minded people. But with this new power comes a heightened responsibility-platforms that can potentially reach millions of viewers and readers also provide a potential for misuse that can jeopardize patient privacy and place hospitals at risk. Because of their unique restrictions, even hospitals that use the tools regularly have much left to learn about social media. With constant monitoring and stewardship and a commitment to educating staff, hospitals can effectively use social media tools for marketing and education.

The Methodist Hospital System, which includes an academic medical center and four community hospitals, adopted its formal social media policy in the fall of 2009, after initial unofficial excursions into the world of social media. We saw social media as an opportunity to extend a conversation with our patients and with the community at large and share our culture with a larger base of like-minded people - a virtual street corner where people could gather to talk about their interests.

By 2009, it was clear that Facebook's popularity was rising, and in March 2010, it surpassed Google in the number of weekly visits from US customers (Dougherty 2010). In May 2009, when Methodist established its corporate Facebook account, the growth trend was evident. The first few posts on Methodist's Facebook page were videos taken from the hospital system's local television commercials. Gradually, we incorporated information and photographs from patient-centered activities, such as "mammogram parties," and announcements of clinics, screenings, and flu shots.

The core strategy then, as now, was to participate in any conversation about Methodist and its services. We cannot hope to control such conversations, but we can take part in them. By inviting patients, families, and employees to talk about Methodist, we hope to convey a favorable picture of our services.

As we crafted a content strategy for our Facebook page, we visited other hospitals' sites. Mayo Clinic was one of the first in the country to fully embrace social media, and its rapidly growing Facebook presence was instructive in our efforts to grow an audience base. Other helpful sites we visited include Johns Hopkins, Cleveland Clinic, Stanford Hospitals and Clinic, St. Jude's Children's Hospital, and MD Anderson Cancer Center.

After obtaining buy-in from top administrators, including the hospital system's president and CEO and senior executives, we set to work creating a social media use policy that would apply to all hospital personnel. Through the University HealthSystem Consortium, we identified other hospitals seeking to establish a social media presence and exchanged drafts of social media policies to craft our own policy.

EMPLOYEES AND SOCIAL MEDIA

Hospital management, particularly our legal team, had reservations about a Facebook presence:

* Would employees abuse their access by spending work time on personal Facebook accounts, sharing private patient information, airing work-conflict issues ("My boss is stupid..."), and representing the hospital system negatively?

* How would posts and comments from the readership be monitored? How would we respond to negative or offensive posts?

* What steps would we take to prevent the intentional or inadvertent broadcasting of private patient health information?

\ Another important consideration was whether to block or restrict employees' use of social media on company computers. During the period in which our administration was considering and approving our social media policy draft, more than 50 percent of US hospitals blocked employee access to social media (Bennett 2011). …

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