Hospitals need an engaged social media presence on Facebook and Twitter

How important is it for hospitals to engage in social media platforms, such as Facebook or Twitter?

It’s essential.

Nowhere is that more evident than in the controversy concerning infant Joseph Maraachli. Without getting too involved in the politics or ethics of the case, this was the highly publicized story where a Canadian hospital came under fire over the care of a dying infant.

This particular institution didn’t have a pronounced social media presence, and was not effective at engaging the social media firestorm that the case precipitated.  As reported by the Globe and Mail,

London Health Sciences Centre decided … to launch a public information campaign about a dying infant in its care, Joseph Maraachli, after the case went viral. Videos have sprung up online that supporters say contradict the doctors’ diagnosis that the baby is in a vegetative state. Petitions and campaigns have started in a bid to save Joseph’s life. A website, SaveBabyJoseph.com, is asking for donations to help the family, and a similarly named Facebook page had swelled to nearly 13,300 members by Tuesday afternoon.

According to the hospital’s communication director, “there was a lot of misinformation that was beginning to circulate in a variety of media, including the social media concepts.”

You think?

That’s why it’s important that medical institutions respond quickly and decisively to potential falsehoods spread on Facebook and Twitter. What used to take days to germinate, now spreads in a matter of hours.

But it takes more than a mere Facebook site or Twitter account to effectively engage. American Medical News notes that many hospital Facebook pages are inert, rendering them less effective:

[Marketing group] Verasoni chose 120 hospitals at random and found all had, at some point, a Facebook page. Of those, fewer than 40% posted content to the site on a daily basis, 25% posted twice a week and 25% posted once a month. Of the rest, three posted less than once a month and six had a presence but no activity … 83% of hospitals don’t solicit feedback from people who follow their Facebook feeds. And 97% don’t use Facebook’s discussion board.

Maintaining a hospital social media presence is a full time job, and cannot be supported by framing it as an additional task for a marketing department. In order for a hospital to be effective at Facebook or Twitter, someone needs to be there at all times to respond.

If London Health Sciences Centre had an effective, engaged social media presence, perhaps they would have more nimbly mitigated the media firestorm that burned them.

 is an internal medicine physician and on the Board of Contributors at USA Today.  He is founder and editor of KevinMD.com, also on FacebookTwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn.

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