According to the Pew Research Center, in 2000, 46% of American adults had access to the internet, 5% of U.S. households had broadband connections and 25% of American adults looked online for health information. Now, 74% of American adults go online, 57% of American households have broadband connections and 61% of adults look online for health information. Those are big numbers.
As with many other aspects of daily living, digital has changed how we get stuff done. Today a patient experiences a set of symptoms or learns of a possible condition and it’s off to “Dr. Google.” This of course isn’t limited to the patients themselves. A growing number of people say the Internet has played a crucial or important role in helping another person cope with a major illness.
Thought leaders in the space are using a number of labels to signal the digital-healthcare trend. Health 2.0, Participatory Medicine, e-health, e-patients, all of these speak to the underlying reality that patients supported with digital technologies are seeking information and exercising control over their health choices. Given the ubiquity of digital media and the essential nature of health, it’s no surprise that we’re witnessing something of an e-patient movement. Consider these figures from the same Pew Research Study on e-patients, featured in a landmark whitepaper published in 2007 by the e-Patient Scholars Working Group.
- 93 percent of e-patients (patients using the Internet) said that it was important that the Internet made it possible to get the medical information they needed when it was most convenient for them.
- 92 percent said that the medical information they found was useful.
- 91 percent of e-patients looked for information on a physical illness.
- 83 percent of e-patients said that it was important that they could get more health information online then they could get from other sources.
- 81 percent said that they learned something new.
- 80 percent of e-patients visited multiple medical sites. A few visited 20 sites or more.
- 72 percent of e-patients searched for medical information just before or after a doctor’s visit.
Clearly e-patients are finding their digital searches worthwhile. Indeed digital technologies and social media forms are supporting and encouraging active involvement not just by patients, but all connected parties. Patients, caregivers, healthcare professionals, and pharmaceuticals—all are connecting as part of a larger ecosystem.
Given all this networking activity, it follows that healthcare providers must be able to answer, “Yes” to two fundamental questions:
- Do I have the information and help that patients and their families seek?
- Am I making it available to them in the time and place of need?
Truth is, these questions represent an on-going challenge for healthcare providers. Many providers are responding. Many are not. Hospitals specifically, have a unique role and opportunity here. While patient needs are vast and diverse, hospitals can take a few simple steps and greatly impact care and the vitality of their hospital system.
Social Media for Engagement and Transformation
Broadly, what we’re suggesting is for hospitals to initiate a Social Media Strategy & Plan. If that sounds complex, far-reaching or overly ambitious, worry not, there are some easy steps hospitals can take. There are some basic actions to take to set a course for positive, significant change and in-step with the e-patient revolution. To get the ball rolling, we suggest doing five things:
1. Form a simple strategy. Don’t be thrown by the word strategy. All we’re suggesting is identifying…
A) The Who—the patients and other key stakeholders
B) The What—the information and help they seek
C) The How—the channels we can deliver through
Put all that down on a single page summary and you’ll have all the “strategy” needed to direct a smart and meaningful effort.
2. Form an informal taskforce. Given the wide use Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and the like, chances are there are individuals throughout the hospital system that are not only social media savvy but intrinsically motivated to be involved with such an initiative. So pull a handful of people together who have the “bug” (that’s a good bug) from across the system, set a simple strategy (step 1, above) select the social media platforms (step 3, below) and go.
3. While there are ever-dizzying array of social media platforms available, don’t get confused. There are a couple of no-brainers that can bring about enormous positive change. Two things every hospital should have (and most don’t) are:
- Patient care websites such as Carepages.com or Caringbridge.org. Patient care websites allow families and friends stay in touch during serious health events. Through personalized websites members can relate their stories, post photos and update friends and family instantly.
- Facebook Fan Page. A Facebook Fan Page is a public profile that enables you to share information about your hospital and services. It can be created in just minutes. Fan Pages are useful because you can include everything that relates to the hospital: contact info, press releases, videos, news, events, etc. And given its social nature and flexibility, you can post frequently without all the headaches normally associated with updating your official website.
4. Distribute the learning. Here’s a way you can leapfrog most organizations that have limited their social media to marketing and public relations groups. These groups might in-fact be best equipped to facilitate this function, but don’t stop there. It’s becoming clear that the best use of social platforms is to make them enterprise-wide. Get everyone in.
5. And finally, regroup in three months. Once you’ve been at it for several months, it’s likely that you’ll see the way forward. You’ll learn. Your caring culture will evolve naturally and the next steps can be made clear.
And there you have it. It’s only the beginning, but real actions that can deepen your understanding, engagement and ability to deliver care. It’s time to join the e-patient revolution.