Academic journal article Journal of Healthcare Management

Social Media: How Hospitals Use It, and Opportunities for Future Use/PRACTITIONER APPLICATION

Academic journal article Journal of Healthcare Management

Social Media: How Hospitals Use It, and Opportunities for Future Use/PRACTITIONER APPLICATION

Article excerpt

Jason P. Richter, PhD, FACHE, assistant professor, graduate program in health and business administration, Army-Baylor University, Fort Sam Houston, Texas; David B. Muhlestein, PhD, JD, director of research, Leavitt Partners, Salt Lake City, Utah; and Chrisanne E. A. Wilks, health services management and policy, College of Public Health, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio


When used effectively, social media benefits hospitals through increased revenue, employee recruitment, and increased customer satisfaction. Although 72% of adults who use the Internet engage in social media, little is known about its prevalence among hospitals and the ways in which hospitals use it. We examined hospital characteristics associated with social media use and how U.S. hospitals use Facebook. Through analysis of websites and Facebook pages, we found that seven in 10 hospitals use social media and that 9% of hospitals with a Facebook page do not provide a link to it from their web page. The odds of social media use were greater in large, urban, nonprofit hospitals; at hospitals affiliated with universities or health systems; and at hospitals that emphasize quality metrics or educational information. Hospitals use Facebook as a dissemination strategy to educate consumers, acknowledge staff, and share news of the hospital's awards. However, the majority of hospitals do not actively engage consumers on Facebook pages. We conclude that this lack of engagement is a lost opportunity to enhance customer service, improve quality of care, and build loyalty.

For hospital executives, we illustrate that Facebook is underutilized and that considerable opportunity exists for consumer engagement at a low cost. For policymakers, there is a greater use of social media by nonprofit hospitals, compared to for-profit facilities. As Facebook is most commonly used as an educational tool, it is another example of nonprofit hospitals' heightened focus on health promotion and disease prevention.

For more information about the concepts in this article, contact Dr. Richter at


Estimates suggest that 78% of Americans currently use the Internet and that 58% use it to obtain health information (Atkinson, Saperstein, & Pleis, 2009; Zickuhr & Smith, 2012). According to a 2013 Pew Research report, 72% of the group of U.S. residents known as 'online adults" use social media, up from 8% in 2005 (Brenner, 2013). The term social media encompasses Internetbased applications that help consumers share opinions, insights, experiences, and perspectives (Kaplan & Haenlein, 2009). Globally, more than 1 billion people use the social media site Facebook, a 23% increase since 2012 (Associated Press, 2013).

Even as social media's profile rises, however, some hospitals remain unconvinced this trend can work to their advantage. The Ohio Hospital Association (2013) found that while social media use among hospitals is increasing, only 15% of Ohio hospitals devote a staff member to managing social media as a full-time duty. Furthermore, some health professionals have reservations about using social media because of privacy and security concerns and the risk of negative comments from patients (Vance, Howe, & Dellavalle, 2009).

Social media is deemed by many hospitals to come with »high cost and a potentially troubling communication stream. One study identified a lack of time, a lack of organizational social media culture, and problems with privacy and data security as barriers to effective social media implementation (Bermudez-Tamayo et al., 2013).

Many of the reservations hospitals have about social media stem from misperceptions. The idea that mistakes in the social media content posted by hospital staff leads to far-reaching and disastrous consequences is not necessarily accurate. Methodist Health System, for example, demonstrated that the release of unauthorized disclosure of private patient information can be contained (Angelle & Rose, 2011). …

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