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Why social media is good medicine for health care

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Ashley McMaster, the senior health care editor at SmartBrief, recently interviewed Christina B. Thielst about her new book, “Social Media in Healthcare: Connect, Communicate, Collaborate.” Christina Thielst is a veteran hospital and health care administrator and entrepreneur. To learn more about Christina’s research, professional interests and specializations, visit her blog.

What do you see as the greatest challenges to achieving widespread health care provider use of social media tools? The greatest challenges are fear and not having a clear understanding of the technologies and how they can be applied.

Which medium/media do you see medical professionals using most often?
Right now medical professionals, especially physicians, are using social networking sites to connect with others who share common interests. Sites like Sermo and Physician Connect.

What benefits do providers say they see with using social media? What risks?
Benefits include increased exposure and new audiences; increased traffic to their websites; enhanced communications; more effective collaboration; reduced media costs; and awareness of unsatisfied patients families, employees and the public. There is a risk that someone will leave an unpleasant comment, but it is outweighed by becoming aware and being able to respond. There are other risks, but these can all be addressed by planning.

How are providers using social media to stay connected with patients?
Examples include Hello Health, which provides a social networking platform for physicians to incorporate into their practice, OneRecovery is offered by some providers to facilitate the patient’s aftercare plan and for peer support, and many are using social media to deliver education (podcasts, videocasts) or to engage health care consumers — i.e. blogs,, etc.

How do they use these tools to communicate with vendors?
One example is a provider who used Twitter to connect with vendors and employees during a disaster. Others are collaborating on wikis and communicating on social networking sites and on blogs. We are in the early stages with vendors, but I see growth, especially as vendors reach out to their customers (the providers) using social media.

Image credit, VisualField, via iStock Photo