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The 4 P’s of Healthcare Social Media Governance


Social media is a must for practices to engage patients in today's day and age. So a governance program is essential.

Social media can't be dismissed by practices.

Patients are on social media and expect their doctors to be there too. Plus, as a free focus group of uninhibited consumers, healthcare provider organizations need to be active on social media. That means practices also need a governance plan, according to Melody Smith Jones, manager of connect health for Perficient, a consulting firm, and Nelly Jacobo, director of digital strategy at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles.

"Patients are out there on social media. They are asking ‘Dr. Google’ questions, sometimes at their own peril. We can be there to answer their questions," said Smith Jones. Agreeing, Jacobo added, "As social media becomes more disruptive, it's changing the way we communicate. This is no different for healthcare."

Jacobo and Smith Jones explained how provider organizations can roll out a social media governance program that protects them from HIPAA violations, stays relevant and on message, and keeps patients engaged during a session at the annual Health Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference, held this year in Orlando.

They outlined four “P”’s to social media governance that can apply to healthcare provider organizations of all sizes:

Priority: By priority, Smith Jones means creating a strategy around the data that you can compile about your patient population. This will help your organization understand what should be its top priority in social media. "You want to see what's happening locally, [and] what's happening nationally. Do an internal analysis. What are our biggest strengths and weaknesses that we need to surmount to become what we want in terms of digital and social media? Always listen first." she said.

At Cedars-Sinai, Jacobo took this strategy to heart. They benchmarked how they performed in social media against local competitors as well as nationally known hospitals. The hospital also implemented a location-based social engagement platform called HYP3R. The platform helped them capture what people in a specific location publicly said about Cedars-Sinai. It made them realize patients were talking mostly about maternity and recovery, and helped them focus on those areas.

People:  For this component of social media governance, Smith Jones said that healthcare provider organizations have to "start at the top." This means not only convincing executives to buy into a social media strategy, but having them as ambassadors for your organization. At Cedars-Sinai, Jacobo said  CIO Darren Dworkin and its vice president of legal were involved with Twitter and Instagram respectively.

In fact, Smith Jones said, all employees should be welcomed and encouraged to act as social media ambassadors for the organization. "Employees that are engaged in social are your treasure chest. You want to tap into them because when the general consumer is asked, ‘who is credible within an organization?’ it's the employees," she said. 

Policy: The reason to have policy around social media is because things "move quickly" on these platforms, Smith Jones said. "You don't want to have it so your employees have to go up and down the ladder every time a decision needs to be made and it take weeks or months to respond to a particular incident," she said. In particular, Jacobo said policies can help practices understand and follow guidelines to ensure they don't break HIPAA laws by engaging with patients on social media.

Smith Jones said there should be policies for employees - both as employees in general and as official representatives of the organization - and for the general public. Smith Jones said the latter policy can include information on how the organization wants to engage on social media and what could happen if a patient puts their own health information out there for the public to see. "It's [telling them] ‘you aren't there to give one-on-one advice, you are there to give one-to-many advice,’" Smith Jones said.

Process: The last “P” of social media governance is the most important one, Smith Jones said, even though it's the most forgotten. It's making sure your organization has the processes in place to react quickly to things that are happening in the social media environment.

For instance, she said having processes in place can help practices respond quickly if they have a "bad Tweet." She listed off several examples of bad Tweets that could happen under your organization's brand including inappropriate opinions, insensitive statements, and offering a reward you can't deliver. Another incident is potentially having your social media feed get hacked, but Smith Jones noted that enacting a social media governance program can help "create a long history of healthy communications with your patient population. Over time, if your account were to get hacked, they'll know it's not you."

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