It was only a matter of time before social networking sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter would have an indelible impact on consumer expectations, transcending the role of interactive, continuous peer-to-peer communication tools. Sometimes referred to as microblogging, Twitter specifically reflects the latest generation of e-communication through bite-sized messaging.
As the Twitter phenomenon has grown in popularity from niche appeal to a mainstream social networking site, it has become more than just a convenient way to communicate pithy comments and images with friends and family. Twitter has transformed into a valuable portal for organizations to network, build relationships, and communicate directly with customers.
Today, major corporations, celebrities, and even hard news journalists are all disseminating bite-size chunks of real-time information to its followers on Twitter. How is the popularity and communicative power of Twitter being applied within healthcare?
Healthcare, like any other industry, is fiercely competitive. Open communication and responding to customers’ needs is pivotal to creating a competitive edge. Hospitals and clinics are now taking notice by actively marketing directly to customers (patients) through social networking portals, stepping outside of traditional communication channels to reach a growing network of informed consumers.
Below are examples of how some organizations are responding to the Twitter phenomenon.
140 Healthcare Uses for Twitter, Phil Baumann on January 16, 2009. Phil Baumann blogs about the numerous possibilities and concerns related to Twitter in healthcare. Phil states, “Twitter's simplicity of functional design, speed of delivery and ability to connect two or more people around the world provides a powerful means of communication, idea-sharing and collaboration. There's potency in the ability to burst out 140 characters, including a shortened URL. Could this power have any use in healthcare? After all, for example, doctors and nurses share medical information, often as short bursts of data (lab values, conditions, orders, etc.)."
- Tissue recruitment (for kidney and other organs, including blood)
- Epidemiological survey
- Disaster alerting and response
- Emergency response team management
- Supportive care for patients and family members… continued here.
Webcast Your Brain Surgery? Hospitals See Marketing Too, nytimes.com, May 29, 2009.
States that many healthcare organizations, "faced with economic pressures and patients with abundant choices, hospitals are using unconventional, even audacious, ways of connecting directly with the public. Seeking to attract or educate patients, entice donors, gain recognition and recruit or retain top doctors, hospitals are using Twitter from operating rooms… and having patients' blog about their procedures."
The article continues:
"'Do we really want to treat health care like other consumer goods?' he asked. Tony Cotrupi, a health care marketing consultant, said hospitals 'have come to marketing dragging and kicking, but because things are so competitive they have to.' Patients 'used to go like sheep wherever the doctor sent us,' he said, and spent 'more time researching what kind of toaster to buy.'
'But now, you have the curious consumer,' Mr. Cotrupi said, 'and hospitals are doing all they can to open up the kimono.'" Read the full article for additional examples given of hospitals using Twitter.
Surgeons send 'tweets' from operating room, CNN.com/technology February 17, 2009.
"Whether it's new and cool or merely yicky, observers say there's no question that more and more doctors — and patients — will be sharing the blow-by-blow of medical procedures on sites like Twitter and Facebook.
Henry Ford Hospital, in Detroit, Michigan, a chief resident tweeted continuously during a major operation where doctors, medical students, and curious observers followed the procedure in real-time. Dr. Craig Rogers, the lead surgeon in the Henry Ford surgery said.' The impetus for his Twittering was to let people know that a tumor can be removed without taking the entire kidney. We're trying to use this as a way to get the word out,' Rogers said."
Many may ask, is this safe? Does tweeting during surgery divert attention in the same way texting while driving does? At this early stage, the full advantages and possible drawbacks have yet to be known. For many patients and doctors, the use of Twitter during surgery will likely be met with skepticism. However, with the recent outbreaks of viruses such as the N1H1 virus, known as swine flu, directly communicating with patients and practitioners in a more benign fashion is gaining credibility. Punctual health alerts could be valuable in keeping consumers abreast of locations for treatment, or the severity of an outbreak from reliable sources such as local hospitals or clinics.
Other uses for Twitter offer great marketing potential in reaching patients, providing useful updates and tips for healthy living and wellness. Likewise, Twitter savvy patients may offer insights into their experiences with their physician or hospital that ordinarily may not be shared, helping improve delivery of care.
The options for using Twitter in healthcare are numerous, but concerns over patient privacy and restrictions of HIPPA would eventually need to be addressed before more physicians and hospitals get on board with incorporating Twitter into their operations.
To read additional opinions about Twitter in healthcare, below are several resources:
- Twitter and Patient Privacy Rights
- Medicine in the Age of Twitter
- How Facebook and Twitter Are Changing Data Privacy Rules
- Global CIO: Why CIOs Need The Transformative Power Of Twitter